clients don’t understand what I do, business casual for men, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Does my team need in-person stuff for me to be a good manager?

My office is switching to somewhat hybrid work for a trial period. Even when we are not on-site, other teams are meeting for lunches or happy hours to boost morale.

I feel caught between being a good manager and creating opportunities for my team to bond, versus protecting my own health. I would not be going to restaurants or even picnicking outside with unvaccinated people at this time, and I know one of my employees is not vaccinated (they volunteered the info). I also don’t feel comfortable holding team meetings in conference rooms on the days we are on-site.

If I continue building team morale through Zoom as I’ve been doing the past year and a half, is this still effective management? Or is part of being a good manager accepting some extra risk to take on more in-person collaboration than I would as a non-manager employee?

Noooo, being a good manager does not require you to put your own or other people’s health at risk! In fact, I’d argue it requires the opposite.

You can make it clear you’re not going to hold group activities or team meetings in conference rooms while there’s still a threat to anyone’s health, and leave it at that. You’ll be doing that unvaccinated employee a favor, especially if they have medical reasons for not being vaxxed.

2. CEO will ask how things are going … but she just yanked a promotion away from me

Over the next few weeks, our CEO has scheduled one-on-one meetings with everyone in our organization to “chat.” I know she will ask how everything is going and how we’re doing. It’s also an attempt to seem relatable on her part.

Under normal circumstances, I would jump at the chance to have a private conversation with her, but in the last few months, there has been a lot of transition. Several of us were told we would be receiving promotions, only to have the rug pulled out from under us in an organization-wide email sent after close of business one day, and there’s a lot more going on that has many of us feeling sour.

During a private meeting with the CEO last week, she told me it makes perfect sense that I move up and she would talk to my boss about making that happen. But yesterday, in a meeting with both of them, she said there are no plans for my department to expand or for me to move up.

At the best of times during my four years here, I’ve tolerated my position. I’ve stayed and enjoyed work because I valued the organization and my coworkers. I like the culture, the flexibility, and when I only do what’s in my job description, the pay is competitive. The trouble is, I’m doing stretch assignments far outside my role with little recognition and no chance at advancement.

How do I respond next week when I’m asked how I enjoy my job? She knows all this backstory — there’s no need to rehash that. I don’t want to tell the truth (I hate it here) and risk being put out to pasture.

One option: “Historically I’ve enjoyed my work here, but I’ve become concerned about what my path for advancing looks like. I came away from our last one-on-one with the understanding that you wanted to talk with Jane about me moving up, but later you said there are no plans for that. So I’m hoping to get a better sense of what my future prospects here are.”

Another option is to turn the question back on her: “Actually, I was hoping to ask about how you and the organization see my work. We’d talked about moving me into a higher-level role, but when we met with Jane, that sounded unlikely to happen.”

That’s assuming you want to take it in that direction. But if you just want to get the meeting over with and not get into it, you can always say something bland like, “I’ve always really valued the organization’s work and my colleagues.” But I’d urge you to ask about what happened — it sounds like it would be strange not to, given the previous conversations.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My clients don’t understand the work I do for them

I work as a publicist and my clients pay me a monthly retainer. I have explained to them that they’re paying me for my time and effort to pitch their stories to the media. But then certain months where we haven’t placed any stories in the media, they feel like they haven’t gotten anything for their money. Then I have to explain to them again that they’re paying me for my time and effort to pitch their stories. For some reason, this falls on deaf ears with them forgetting that I’m writing up story pitches, I’m sending emails, I’m following up with the emails and making phone calls, etc. I feel like my occupation is misunderstood where everybody’s looking for results immediately every time. How can I better explain this or fix this situation?

What kind of expectations are you setting when you first start working together? Ideally you should be talking about this explicitly from the start — explaining it’s typical to put in hours of pitching for every story that appears, or what results clients typically see for X hours of your time, or being up-front that they shouldn’t expect coverage every month but should expect ___ instead.

Obviously there’s a lot of variation in this work and you can’t give clients a formula like X will definitely equal Y, but part of the job is educating them on how it does work and what’s reasonable to expect, both so they’re not expecting unrealistic results, but also so they know when things aren’t going as well as they should be. Presumably you have metrics you look at to know if things are on-track or not, and they should be in the loop on those too. In fact, if you have wildly different perspectives on what those metrics should be, that’s something to raise before you decide to work together; it should probably be part of the intake process you use when deciding whether or not to take someone on. (I promise you every client is coming in with certain expectations about what results you’ll get them, whether they’re clear about those at the start or not. You’ll be doing both of you a favor by bringing those expectations to the surface and talking about whether you can meet them or not.)

From there, do you keep them informed about the work you’re doing on their behalf beyond the obvious successes? Something like a monthly tracking report showing what you’ve pitched and where will help them understand the work they’re paying for.

4. How do I find a recruiter?

I’ve heard conflicting things about whether hiring a recruiter is a good idea for a recent college graduate. Can you help me determine how to find a good one, what to look for, and what to expect, etc.?

You can’t actually hire a recruiter if you’re a job seeker. Recruiters are hired by employers to fill specific positions; they’re not hired by candidates to find them jobs. If you apply for a job where an external recruiter managing the search, you’ll end up working with that recruiter as long as you’re under consideration. Or a recruiter might reach out to you about an opening they think you’d be a good fit for (often via LinkedIn). In both cases, you might be able to form a relationship where they consider you for other jobs down the road too — but you wouldn’t be hiring the recruiter (in fact, if a recruiter ever wants you to pay them, that’s a big red flag). You’d just be joining the field of people they know and consider for the roles they’re working on filling (which will generally mean you’re ignored until/unless you match a job they’re trying to fill).

You can ask around in your field about recruiters who others have worked with and recommend, and then contact them with your resume and ask to be considered if they have any roles that might be a good match for you. You can also look at the websites of recruiting firms in your field; many will list the openings they’re recruiting for. There are also staffing agencies; that’s different than a recruiter but could be a better fit for a recent grad, particularly if you don’t have a specific and in-demand skill set recruiters would be looking for.

5. What is business casual menswear?

I’ve recently chosen to come out as non-binary in my professional life (specifically transmasculine, my pronouns are they/them) I’m really struggling trying to build a professional wardrobe of men’s clothes — I’ve only ever worn women’s business casual (feminine cut slacks, pencil skirts, blouses, etc.) and I really don’t understand what the different levels of masculine professional dress are. I know that formal means a suit and black tie means a tux, but I’m not really sure what is appropriate for business casual or “Friday casual” type codes, and I’m really struggling trying to find useful information through internet searches outside of brands marketing their specific products. Do you (or any of your readers) have advice for this?

If you just want something simple and aren’t invested in being particularly fashionable, one easy answer is khakis and a button-down. That doesn’t mean khaki colored necessarily, but khaki-like material or an equivalent level of formality. (Where I am — D.C. — this combo is basically a uniform for most masculine-presenting people who aren’t in suits. If you are thinking this sounds like a very boring city fashion-wise, you are correct.)

But there are far more interesting options too! Masculine-presenting readers … or appreciators of masculine-presenting clothing … can you help us talk specifics?

(Also, this seems like a pretty good guide, and it explains what makes any given item of clothing more or less casual. It even gives a formality scale for different types of shirts, sweaters, and shoes. Also, this Pinterest board is pretty on-target.)

{ 332 comments… read them below }

  1. AMT*

    Trans guy and total clotheshorse here. I have been out and working for 15+ years and the best advice I can give you is to do some reading on the different aspects of formality in men’s clothes. It can be tempting to put all worky-looking pants in the category of “dress slacks” or all non-sneaker shoes in the category of “dress shoes,” but there are a lot of subtleties to the level of formality in menswear (e.g. fabric, pattern, color, fit, details) and it’s easy to make your outfit look odd or out of step with your coworkers if you aren’t paying attention (e.g. more informal pants with a more formal shirt, a Hawaiian shirt in a blazer office, mixing up stuff you’d wear to a wedding or the club with officewear).

    Permanent Style is one of my favorite menswear blogs, and has some good material on this topic (and on fit, which is also important):

    Reddit’s /r/malefashionadvice is also good for basic workwear advice.

    1. Cathie from Canada*

      For fun, you can also follow Tom and Lorenzo
      They cover fashion generally, and the “looks” that celebrities are trying to achieve (and sometimes failing!) in their red carpet appearances, as well as what designers are showing for women and for men. Some of their comments are priceless.

      1. Cinderella Sparklepants*

        Lol, I love Tom and Lorenzo. Not sure how practically applicable it is, but they do talk a lot about the cut and fit of styles, and Cathie is right – they’re very entertaining. Plus, if you’re still trying to find a style that’s “you”, nothing wrong with seeing what the options are.

        1. Manwholikesclothes*

          I would say reddits male fashion advice is a great place to start. permanent style is well-written but he spends huge amounts of money on clothes and has a very traditional and rules based approach. It can feel a bit restrictive and full on if you are just starting.

    2. c-*

      I also want to add this link, in case the LW is having trouble with fit or finding good clothes for their body shape:
      It’s addressed to binary transmasc people and focuses quite a bit on passing, but there’s lots of useful stuff about fit, fashion, and cut for androgynous and NB dressers.

      1. Max*

        I also just want to point out as a content note that in addition to focusing heavily on passing, that guide explicitly tells people they need to lose weight in order to be seen as acceptably masculine. I think there are some decent points about cut and fit but overall it seems to be promoting a pretty rigid narrative about body type and shape.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      Thanks! I enjoyed that article; although, I can’t tell if the author is just from cooler climates or it’s impossible to be any level of formal in the south in the summer (<- total possibility). In A/C maybe, but honestly is anyone crazy enough to wear a jacket into the humid summer where the feels like temperature is 110 degrees F?

      1. Mockingjay*

        Seersucker jacket/suit, if you’re in coastal South Carolina. Yep, men still wear them. With bow ties. The cotton weave fabric is incredibly cool.

        Sadly, most seersucker dresses and clothes for women tend to be made of cheap cotton/synthetic blends these days, unless you are buying from a high-end store.

        1. kittymommy*

          Fun fact: the Florida legislature has (or at least has in the past) a seersucker day during session where a group of the male representatives (and others in the capitol) wear seersucker suits for that day.

        2. Anne Elliot*

          You’ll see men in seersuckers suit occasionally here in North Carolina as well. A couple years ago there was a woman at the General Assembly in a sleeveless seersucker sheath with a subtle vertical stripe — she looked very sharp.

      2. AMT*

        IKR?! I’m in NYC and began wearing shorts to work in the summer once I started working for myself (therapist). I’m amazed at the outfits people wear here in the heat and humidity. It reminds me of a paragraph from Arthur Miller’s “Before Air Conditioning”:

        “A South African gentleman once told me that New York in August was hotter than any place he knew in Africa, yet people here dressed for a northern city. He had wanted to wear shorts but feared that he would be arrested for indecent exposure.”

      3. Spreadsheet Enthusiast*

        I’ve had trouble even with casual during a southern summer!

        Uniqlo has some great summer-weight pants that feel like a sturdier workout material, but look much more presentable. They come in “khaki” and “wool” versions, and the latter works really well as a more formal pant when paired with a white button up give or take a tie.

      4. llamalemon*

        Not masc, but a clotheshorse in the Southwest: Stick to natural materials–cotton, linen etc. They can be more expensive, but they breathe, and it makes a world of difference. Linen is a good option too, though it can read on the informal side of business wear, depending on the cut (and I’m personally not a huge fan of things that MUST be ironed).

      5. PT*

        Golf shirts. Southern business casual for men seems to always involve tech fabric golf shirts. So revolting.

    4. SometimesALurker*

      Button-down shirts, including short-sleeved ones, are of course a staple of many office cultures (as long as they’re not, say, camp shirts (avoid seersucker!) or Hawaiian shirts). OP, if you have the problem where your chest size causes gapping between the buttons — femme-of-center dressing advice often includes wearing a camisole, and that doesn’t really apply here. I’ve found that a tie can cover that gap just as well (I like to use a tie bar to help hold it in place). Of course, a tie and especially a tie bar can dress things up a lot and stick out in an office that’s on the casual side. If your office is in the middle, you can wear a tie without a jacket to avoid sticking out. In the right climate, a sweater vest can be a great way to dress men’s business casual and avoid gappage, too.

      1. CM*

        You can also sew (or have a tailor sew) snaps between the buttons. If you’re careful about neat stitching and matching the thread, it shouldn’t really be visible. I love to hunt thrift stores for stuff like old snaps haha

        1. Coenobita*

          I bought a shirt on Thred Up recently and was thrilled to find that the previous owner had put a snap in between two key buttons. Also, less permanent but just as functional: dress tape!

          1. banana ross*

            (In a pinch, toupee tape – often found as Topstick – works great for solving between-button gaps!)

        2. Momma Bear*

          Would adaptive shirts work? Some shirts have snaps that look like buttons or velcro that imitate buttons but would possibly cover all gaps because of the adaptive design.

          My office is full of men wearing slacks (flat front), polos, and button up shirts. They basically look like they stepped out of a Land’s End catalogue. Many will layer a simple tshirt under either the polo or the button up shirt. No ties here, but YMMV depending on the office. Also, skip sneakers. Some sort of leather shoe seems to be preferred. Some of my coworkers will also wear a fleece, either a full zip one or a fleece vest if they work somewhere cold. Might be an option for the fall. A vest might also help with any button issues.

      2. Eeyore is my spirit animal*

        Duluth Trading Post have No-Gap dress shirts that have extra hidden buttons to prevent gapping. I have some and they have worn really well.

      3. LabTechNoMore*

        Also a tie is a decent way to masc things up, depending on how heavily OP is leaning towards more masculine clothing. Alternatively a sportscoat and non-matching dressy pants (khakis, nicer not-blue jeans) with no tie can achieve a similar effect without being as heavy-handedly masculine. Also want to reiterate what SumetimesALurker said, these options are on the more formal side of the business casual spectrum. OP, if you’ve got a more casual-leaning office, they may stand out.

      4. Lauren*

        I agree with the recommendation of a tie to cover button gaps, and I think an undershirt (in lieu of a camisole) is a necessity as well. My partner wears them in white, grey, or black depending on the color of his shirt.

      5. Queer Manager*

        I find buttoning a shirt all the way up automatically makes me feel more masc. I don’t present as masc at work but do in my personal life and have found buying shirts that fit my bust and then getting it tailored in (combined with a snug tank underneath), helps when I want to present masc. I don’t personally bind but have some success with a tighter undershirt.

    5. Allypopx*

      Ahhhh I’m a sucker for mixed-formal outfits when they’re intentional though (jeans and a blazer/button down is aces)

    6. Khatul Madame*

      My husband is a more fashionable dresser in what was, before pandemic, a biz-casual environment leaning more casual. In colder season he wore nice merino or cashmere sweaters either crewneck over a collared shirt, or V-neck over a plain tee. Shirts with neutral, business-y patterns, like thin stripe or dot print, no tie. Dress slacks.
      In summer – lots of nice polo shirts.
      No fleece, ever.

      1. Gender Queer*

        This is mostly me. Polo shirts all the time, and in winter I put on a sweater that allows the collar to be visible over the sweater. I wear khaki pants or jeans, depending on my plans for the day and mood, and the shoes are black sneakers or sport sandals. I work in tech, and am trying to blend into my environment.

      2. BenAdminGeek*

        Yes, polos are great! In my experience working with humans who are interested in being more masculine-presenting, polos also work well regardless of general body shape/type. They don’t look good on me personally, but they are generally a solid choice for business casual.

    7. Beth*

      Just want to put in my usual plug for getting your clothes altered or tailored so that the fit is right. For menswear, this means investing in custom tailoring of at least one suit that will become your Absolute Perfect Suit Look. It might take a bit more effort to find a tailor who know how to work with bodies that aren’t built on a Y chromosome, but the effort will pay off.

      In my current office, there are no non-binary or trans men, but the founding partner has a nonstandard body type, and he introduced all the other men to his tailor. The difference is subtle when you aren’t used to really good tailoring, and blaringly obvious when you are. The people who will notice and respond will icnlude anyone in the business sector who you might want to impress.

      Another note of the value — good tailoring isn’t cheap. It’s an investment. The clothes will fit better, feel better, and last MUCH longer as long as you care for them. It’s like Sam Vimes’ boots — the ones that cost 10 times as much and do a better job for 10 times as long (and are unaffordable for those who can’t pay the full cost up front).

      Enjoy your wardrobe, be fabulous, and live well!

      1. DataSci*

        There are also a number of places making clothes tailored for trans men, AFAB non-binary folks, and butch-dressing cis women that make masculine-tailored clothing for bodies unlike cis men. They aren’t off-the-shelf cheap but may not be as expensive as custom tailoring. One Good Suit is worth splashing out for, but probably not a full wardrobe.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Love the Discworld reference!

        I agree that tailoring can make an outfit. If the pain point is shirts, focus on getting those tailored first if cost/time is an issue.

    8. theletter* is a good resource is good for shoes! Don’t forget the shoes!

      My androngynous and transmasc friends tell me it’s better to get suit jackets and pants that are made for those of us assigned female at birth and getting them tailored. It’s not hard to reach out to a company and ask them to make those short-torsoed pants straight instead of skinny – and we’re nearing the end of the skinny pants. Good tailors can take a jacket that was built for people with smaller shoulders and larger chests and make it fit how you want – if the jacket fits the shoulders, it can often be tweaked to de-emphasize a large chest or fit smoothly over a chest binder/high support bra.

      Conversely, a jacket that is big in the shoulders, pants with a super low rise, those will have the opposite effect of what you’re looking for – emphasizing chest and shortness of torso. Menswear (hereforth refered to as mascwear in my mind) has always been about tailors building suits to fit A BODY. To a good tailor, that’s all a body is – a body. A suit, regardless of the body, is architected to the body. Everything frill or pant cuff or bow tie, the stuff that really makes a suit read masc or fem, is merely window dressing.

      So the moral of the story is: if you’re looking at suits, don’t be confused by the marketing! They may be modeled with fem looks, but everyone who’s done decades of online shopping will tell you that the suit you get will make you look like you in a suit. It’s going to be the shoes, the shirt, the hair cut that makes it masculine.

    9. Littorally*

      Seconding all of this, as another trans guy. I made this jump after existing in the workplace for a number of years, and while there is a certain amount of transferrable knowledge (what colors pair well together or don’t, what makes clothing fit you well vs fit awkwardly, how to take care of clothes so they don’t look rumpled or messy) the fashion rules are very, very different. But there is lots of information out there! r/malefashionadvice is one of my favorites, and they do weekly question threads that ime are very welcoming to newbies in the male fashion world.

      That, at least, is one thing you have going for you on the masc side. A lot of guys, cis and trans alike, don’t grow up getting clothing advice from their parents the way girls generally do, so you’re in good company to be at a working age just now trying to figure out how to make men’s fashion work for you. MFA has plenty of guys in their 20s or 30s coming in like “I’ve only ever worn basketball shorts and t shirts, now I have an office job, what do I do?”

      1. AMT*

        That’s a good point! Even though I transitioned at age 18, my role model was…a dad who wore identical flameproof shirts, black jeans, and work boots every day until he retired. Tons of people from blue collar families (or just, uh, dorky families) are in the same boat. Being in your twenties and having to piece this stuff together from the internet and other guys is the norm, not the exception.

      1. Angstrom*

        My group has several people who wear Hawaiian shirts for “Floral Friday” every week. I’ve heard a lot of compliments and no complaints.

    10. Female-type person*

      My husband is not an off-the-rack size, and we have discovered semi-custom clothing for men. (Apparently, the difference between this and “bespoke” is that “bespoke” builds a pattern from scratch from your measurements, and this method puts existing pattern pieces together from your measurements–regardless, we are wildly happy with the results, which are far superior to trying to force things to work with a lot of alterations.) The person who runs the shop we use says he is suddenly doing tremendous business with non-binary and transgender individuals who want a menswear look, but, understandably enough, have fit issues with off the rack menswear. Depending on your experience, this may be an option to keep in mind for the future.

      1. Littorally*

        Yep — what you’re talking about is MtM – made-to-measure. It’s pretty awesome for transmasc folks!

    11. dry erase aficionado*

      Popping into say that I had a professor in college who always wore custom dress shirts with cuff links and hand tied bow ties, paired with Dockers and lace up “dress” Rockport type shoes. That was in 1999 and I still remember how oddly mismatched he was. To AMT’s point, make sure the level of formality matches top to bottom.

    12. Van Wilder*

      Cis woman here. Just learned, thanks to Alison’s link, that there is a difference between button up and button down shirts. Knowledge!!!

      1. Katie*

        Same! At first I was like, ‘There’s a difference in formality between button down and button up shirts?’ Are you F’ing with me?

        1. Autumnheart*

          For those who are like “What IS the difference?” and are about to hit up Google like I just did, I’ll save you the trouble: both are collared shirts with buttons down the front, but a button-down shirt has buttons on the collar, and a button-up shirt does not.

    13. Another Michael*

      Something that I like to think about for menswear and masculine-presenting folks is the idea of the third piece. Basically you start with your staples (chinos, button-down, etc.) and add something else like a sweater, blazer, vest, or jacket (denim, canvas etc.). It’s an almost too simple upgrade that can elevate your look in what can be a very uncreative category of clothing. For blazers especially I like to look for unlined cotton for the summer and wool or sweater material (shout out to Buck Mason’s felted chore coat) in the winter for a slightly different look. Pay attention to fit on blazers too; it’s worth investing in a visit to the tailor. Once you’ve started adding the third piece you’ll get a feel for how you can switch it up. For example, colored denim with a button down and a blazer or a striped t-shirt or sweater under a blazer instead of a button down, etc.

      Your mileage may vary on jewelry, but I love watches. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive – I love my Timex Weekender with endless nylon strap options. That can be a fun third piece for the summer when you simply cannot add another layer.

  2. SusieQ*

    LW #3 – when I work with third party vendors, they usually provide a burn report of their hours. Frequency depends on the project and budget. Some provide it every couple of weeks while others are fine once a month. The report typically includes the list of items worked on along with the time spent. For major projects that have a potential going over time/budget, we also have a standing 30-min call to discuss the details of the report. This allows us to discuss next steps and potentially adjust the approach.

    1. NYWeasel*

      I was going to say, I don’t have a lot of experience with managing this type of work, but my guess is that the metrics are probably something like (labor) x (client newsworthiness) = results. And it’s probably pretty difficult to convince clients that the second factor is what’s declining. But maybe you can provide a framework up front like “Generally we expect to see 2-4 articles per month for X hours of pitching. If we see these results declining, we recommend either (less hours per month?) or (client releases something new?) to address the decline. I’d think identifying up front that “We expect to see natural drop offs, this is what we look for and here’s how you can address it” would take away some of the implied judgements in either direction if the metrics start to slip.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Same here – for some clients, they want a log of hours worked against their various projects. I absolutely hate doing them, but tracking hours is a huge thing in consulting and professional services roles. I’m just thankful I’m not a lawyer – they track by 15 minutes at a time, I am told.

      I’m in a similar situation, where you are only as good as your last success on the project, and it’s somewhat difficult to show the efforts when you’re not getting the results the client wants. In these cases, tracking down to the specific task might be of help for you – eg. 2 hours writing pitch; 45 minutes for 3 calls to pitch; 1 hour doing x, 3 hours doing y, etc. etc.

      You may also find it helpful to detail the feedback / results of your pitches – eg. Talked to Wanda at MegaNews – Alpaca Grooming not of interest.

      1. Generic Name*

        Lawyers track time in six minute increments. I’m a lowly consultant who bills time by the quarter hour. :)

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          It’s client-dependent. We had some that do six, some that do 15, and some who have a flat-fee, contingency, or other sort of alternative arrangement. Some clients also do not allow you to put more than one task in a billing entry, so, if you review documents, do research, and draft a memo, that may be three different time entries.

          It is exactly as much fun as it sounds like.

          1. GermanCoffeeGirl*

            I worked as a legal EA for many years and billing took up so much of my time, especially the billing entries that had to be grouped by task. It was especially fun when the lawyer didn’t enter their time separately into the timetracking tool and/or the description of work was unclear.

      2. Mid*

        I bill by 1/10th of an hour, aka 6 minutes. It’s really annoying, if I’m being honest. (I’m a paralegal.)

    3. Generic Name*

      Yes, I was going to suggest more detailed invoices noting what you spent your time on. It doesn’t have to be an exact play by play, but a general ideal of how you’re spending the time might help.

    4. Ama*

      Yes, just going by how my colleagues in my organization’s Communications department report things internally, they usually give us a list of the places they are reaching out to to try and place a story, then come back a while later and give a status report “Teapots Today and Spouts Gazette said no, AllTeapotsNews. com said yes but they want a video interview to go along with the story,” etc.

      You may want to dial the detail back a bit for an external client, but I’ve learned a lot about how hard it is to place stories just from those internal reports — I have a lot of respect for my Communications colleagues given how much press they *have* been able to generate for us (a fairly small national nonprofit).

    5. Deanna Troi*

      There was just a case about this on the TV Show Judge Mathis the other day! A man hired a PR expert to help him made videos (for tik-tok, perhaps?) and then sued them because his videos didn’t go viral. He claimed that the PR expert had guaranteed that his videos would go viral after taking this person’ training. Judge Mathis laughed and him, said that the content was important, too, and dismissed the claim.

  3. RedinSC*

    LW3, the PR firm I use sends me the monthly bill and a report of everything they’ve done, so even if nothing is published, I know that they pitched X ideas to the following media outlets, etc. This way I see what work is happening, so perhaps it’s just a matter of how you report back the work you’re doing?

    Good luck.

    1. TL -*

      I really like this idea! I think it would help provide clarity, especially if they don’t hear from you if nothing gets done.

    2. JayNay*

      This issue LW3 is having is really common in PR and communications work, from my experience in that field. People often have a skewed perspective on how exciting / newsworthy their product is. Journalists don’t work for your company or your PR person, they may take up a pitch or they may not.
      I like the idea of being more clear about what type of results people usually see and making it clear how much work is involved in getting one story placed (e.g. “I will generally hear back from about 1 in 10 publications I email, which is a normal response rate to expect” or some such).

      1. Person from the Resume*

        But it sure seems like it’s part of the publicists’ job to explain the service she is offering in terms the clients can understand. And that could include the hard truths like my pitches aren’t being placed because chance/lack of newsworthiness/other big news sucking all media attention/etc.

        I do think it is worth to show that you pitched X this month working for X hours for client. But you’ve got to manage client expectations while at the same time it may not always work but what can they expect from you. This part of the job must still be part of the publicist’s job.

    3. Lunch Ghost*

      That’s what I thought of too– I don’t work for a PR firm but some of the projects we do similarly don’t necessarily have “results”, and the clients for such projects get a “tracking report” along with their invoice that lists work done in that invoice period, ala “8/1/21: Phone call with client to discuss XYZ. 8/3/21: Email conversation with Alpha Magazine to discuss their story interests. 8/6/21: Submitted blurb for potential story to Alpha Magazine.” etc.

      1. Smithy*

        In fundraising the term “moves management” is used when you’re talking about tracking either a person or institution from being a prospective donor to making a gift, to renewal etc.

        While it’s a concept that has internal usefulness, it also has a lot of external usefulness in explaining the work being done and also making assessments if the amount of work being invested in any one prospect or group of prospects is worth continued investment. Because that investment is very often paying for time when there may not be very tangible results – time in chasing responses, putting together multiple pitches/ideas, etc. So those documents help in educating non-fundraisers in both what work is being done, but also to continue to get their buy-in on continuing that investment.

    4. Pwyll*

      Came here to say the same. When I worked in a PR firm, we provided weekly/monthly (depending on what we pitched and length of contract) status reports outlining the outlets we’re pitching and our numbers of “touches” with them (emails sent, calls held, etc.).

      For really long term clients, we’d include a column for “reception” that was hot/mild/cold to give the client a sense of their chances. But I’d caution away from that if the client is themselves the product being pitched. Our clients were huge companies or politics, they usually weren’t emotionally invested in the same way an author or expert or actor might be. So, if something went from hot to cold, it wasn’t usually a problem.

    5. Artemesia*

      I would not pay someone to do PR that did not do this. Of course you need to provide evidence of doing the work. Sometimes it isn’t successful in garnering press but I need to see what you have done to be willing to pay you.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      If LW isn’t currently doing this type of reporting, I’d recommend some kind of time tracking program to make this more automated.

    7. Urbanchic*

      A million times this! And so important during initial negotiations to set expectations. I think any feedback monthly you can give them too on how their content is being received is helpful, and helps show that it is not your lack of skill or trying, but the news cycle or the clients content. This gives them the sense of the landscape so that they can refine the content to make it more interesting. “Reporter X’s pub just did a story on an adjacent issue, an angle on y may be of interest at a later date.” Suggesting different outlets/modes may also be a good strategy. At the end of the day though, most clients are counting on their publicist to get media exposure, so if its not happening consistently, it will help for you to guide them on why that is the case (need different content, different hook, try different outlets, etc.).

  4. TL -*

    I feel #3. I work in communications and there’s a subset of people that almost always struggle to understand what I do when they start, and how it could take so much time to, for instance, write a concise, informative newsletter that the majority of our company actually opens and skims on a regular basis. Or equally bad, I’ll turn something around really quickly that requires a very specialized skillset, and they’ll think, “oh it must have been a much easier task than I thought – it didn’t TL take any time at all.”

    One of my newer coworkers seems to currently be under the impression that I’m a glorified admin for our director (she’s his actual admin.) She’s made several requests for me to do grunt work that definitely falls under her umbrella even though I’ve clearly explained multiple times those aren’t things I do, and is always a bit puzzled that it’s not my job…

    I do my best to explain and set clear expectations, and it can help. But there’s also times where I kinda just shrug and have a “I’m paid for results, not for the process” attitude. I have tons of results I can point to (and my boss was very supportive), and it goes a long way towards helping me emotionally detach from the “but can’t you just do my gruntwork, comms isn’t actually a hard job,” type requests.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I regard Communications as kind of like the IT team: you may not hear from them every day, and sometimes wonder what on earth it is they’ve done – but try to do without them and your business suffers.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “it didn’t TL take any time at all”
      Same goes for me. I have like 25 years’ experience in the field, and I’ve spent most of that time working on pretty specific subjects that I now know inside out. So yes, I can dash something off and it looks easy. But if you decide to get rid of me and hire a youngster fresh out of school, they may not bill as much per hour, but they’ll be needing to spend a lot more hours on the work, and there’s a chance that even spending twice the time on the project won’t give the same results as for someone who’s spent 20 years thinking about this stuff.

  5. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    #1: You definitely do not have to have in-person activities for team building. Especially not right now when people are still at risk for catching COVID. I think your employees will think more of you if you continue to have these things via Zoom, etc.

    Absolute shame on any manager who tries to pressure their employees to put their health (and other people’s health) at risk like that. And it’s perfectly reasonable to not want to catch even the most mild case of COVID even if one is vaccinated.

    1. Splendid Colors*

      I make a product that would be a fun remote team activity–I’m trying to figure out how to pitch it to potential buyers and how to reach them. I’ve had a couple of companies use it for an in-person activity in the Before Times, but the instructions are simple enough they could be mailed out and/or included in a care package to team members (or virtual conference-goers, etc.)

    2. John Smith*

      Well said. Sadly there are many managers (mine included) who are fixated on presenteeism or don’t take Covid seriously. Mine has insisted people come to the office on spurious necessities and even tried having us work in unsafe environments. Only yesterday he threw a tantrum (shouting, slamming doors etc) because we refused to work in a small space with no ventilation. Utterly despicable.

      You seem like a good manager, LW, keep it up.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        We’re there any repercussions for the tantrum?
        I’d probably be job hunting if there weren’t.

        1. John Smith*

          Nope. In my dept, managers can do no wrong and senior managers have degrees in defending the indefensible. The job hunting is ongoing!

    3. JM60*

      Moreover, when the goal of the Zoom event is to build moral, make it optional! Don’t make force people to attend events, on camera or otherwise, that they don’t want to attend if improving moral is the goal. Source: Being forced to attend moral-building events that I otherwise wouldn’t voluntarily attend typically worsens my moral.

      (I’m not sure if OP is making these events mandatory or quasi-mandatory, but though it was worth mentioning in case they were.)

      1. Decima Dewey*

        A few months back, I got an vaguely worded invitation to a Zoom meeting. I was Acting Branch Manager then, so I planned to attend, because I thought someone from the branch ought to.

        First, the meeting was moved from one meeting platform to another. Then my Grandboss gave me the wrong information for the meeting codes. It took me several tries to get in.

        When I did finally manage to get in, the meeting was in progress. It was some sort of woo about an exercise to make me aware of where I was feeling stress in my body. Believe me, I knew! I was also in a situation where what I had originally been told would be 2 weeks that my boss would be on medical leave had turned into four, and then the end point got changed a couple of times.

        What I needed wasn’t an exercise on how stress was affecting me. I needed to know when I’d have to stop being Acting.

        When I got muted by the host, I quietly hung up and went out to have a nice lunch.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Well tbf if the Manager is ill it can be hard to know when they’ll be back. That doesn’t mean you should be muted during a session about stress, though! You should be given the chance to express yourself and shown empathy, at the very least, and perhaps someone should have suggested ways of reducing your workload.
          I hope things are looking up for you now!

    4. Bagpuss*

      I agree that you don’t need to have in person events in the current circumstances, however, I think, particularly as other teams are having them, it might be sensible to let you team know that you won’t be doing them at present given that Covid is still a thing, and that you will continue to run online team meetings etc for the present. that way, they are aware that it is a specific choice for safety reasons in the current circumstances and not that you are unwilling to meet them generally!

    5. Nanani*


      Also like, a manager is not a cheerleader or a cruise coordinator. You presumably have work to do that isn’t planning team building activities, yes? Focus on that, not on team building during the Nth wave of a pandemic.

  6. Queer on Clearance*

    Transmasculine fashionista here! In general, a good business casual go-to is a somewhat formal shirt (think a button-up, polo, anything with a collar), non-denim pants (ranging from dress slacks, khakis, colored chinos), and shoes that are at least a step above sneakers.

    I run a queer transmasc fashion blog that can offer some inspiration on a budget: @queeronclearance on Instagram. I haven’t updated in a while because of Covid, but I have lots of content from the last few years, spanning my transition.

    Congrats on coming out at work, and best of luck!

    1. MissMeghan*

      I’m glad you mentioned your Instagram! I use it for fashion inspiration constantly, and I think it’s a great resource for masculine fashion as well. There’s so many people out there sharing what they wear, and it’s a perfect place to get lots of ideas (especially good I think if you want to find out what people in your area are wearing).

  7. C4T!!!*

    LW #2 – thank you for this. In a similar position, I will be holding this conversation next week.

    1. SoupSnakes*

      LW #2 here. I’ve been racking my brain for weeks to figure out the best thing to say. I think I’m definitely just going to lay it all out like Alison suggested!

      1. myswtghst*

        Alison’s suggested wording is great. It would be odd (and do you no favors) to pretend like all that nonsense didn’t just happen, and didn’t affect your morale. But it can also be a challenge to not let it sound accusatory when you do lay it out, so I think factual information in a relatively neutral tone is definitely the way to go.

  8. John Smith*

    Re clothing. Safe bets are chinos, Oxford shirts, comfy shoes/canvas/loafers. Black/grey denim works as do non-sporty polo tops. Plain t-shirts with a jacket or cardigan also look good I think.

    Avoid trainers, flipflops/slides, anything with holes in them (besides ones to put appendages through), loud/large logos, neon, anything you’d wear to the gym and absolutely under no circumstances whatsoever – socks with sandals. Just…. Ugh.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Woman who notices men’s clothes here.
      Next to ‘anything with holes’ I’ll add items that are faded or shapeless with age. For example, polo shirts. When the stretchiness of the fabric fails, it doesn’t fit the same–even if you have not changed size. If the collar no longer stays where it was when new and instead flops wide open, it’s time to retire it to weekend wear.
      Catch22: avoiding hot driers helps the elastic last longer. But line drying can set some collars into weird folds. Hanging to dry on plastic hangers with the collar folded seems to do the trick, but it’s a PITA for ‘casual’ as far as I’m concerned.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Thank you for the dryer tip! For years I dried on high because I was impatient. I can confirm, lower temperature settings on just about everything is better for your clothes.

        1. A Person*

          The dryer is just hard on clothes, with all that tumbling. Your poor clothes are getting beaten up a little every time. Lower heat does help! And not washing things if they’re not actually dirty is also good.

    2. AceInPlainSight*

      Another woman who notices men’s clothes in the Midwest- a lot of the engineers in my casual- business casual office/ lab/ plant wear flannels or three quarter zips in cooler weather. Some men wear cardigans, which give a fashion-y vibe. Patterned button downs or polos also always work. Chinos, khakis, or dark wash jeans all year round with upscale sneakers or leather shoes.

  9. Mer*

    #5 – “Where I am — D.C. — this combo is basically a uniform for most masculine-presenting people who aren’t in suits. If you are thinking this sounds like a very boring city fashion-wise, you are correct.”

    The last time I was at Reagan Airport I was like, “Why are all the men here dressed like my dad on Easter?”

    My last job was at a business casual office and a lot of the men wore properly-fitted khakis and other solid-colored pants. The more stylish ones would wear patterned, short sleeve button downs, like Tan wears on Queer Eye. If you’re not ready to fully commit to a patterned button down, you could wear a sweater over it in the colder months.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Yaaaaassss! I remember when the air traffic controllers union got busted. I will *NEVER* call it by the name of my third most despised president.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Exactly – out of respect for the people who keep my plane in the air and out or range of other planes, it’s National. I still remember when Congress tried to hold up Metro’s funding until they changed all the signage to Reagan National Airport (which is expensive – it’s not just the signs in the station, it’s all signage in all stations, rail cars, and printed maps).

      2. New ED*

        National forever! I will never call it Reagan and have never heard a DC native call it by that name either.

    1. Threeve*

      If you’re talking to someone who works in downtown DC and refer to That Shirt, they know exactly the boring gingham button-down you’re talking about.

      1. Coenobita*

        I’m in the DC area and, one time, my dad and my uncle showed up to a family gathering and they were both wearing the exact same version of That Shirt.

        (That said, I work in the environmental sector so there is also a LOT of fleece, especially vests, for all genders.)

      2. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        Years ago Stephen Colbert interviewed Robin Givhan and said “You’re the fashion editor at the Washington Post. Isn’t that like being the dance critic at the Southern Baptist Convention?”

    2. EPLawyer*

      “If you are thinking this sounds like a very boring city fashion-wise, you are correct.”

      Truer words were never spoken. Even women’s fashions are BORING. Regardless of party in power, DC is a very conformist city.

      1. Snailing*

        I live about 1.5-2 hours outside DC in Virginia and every time I go to DC for a day/weekend visit for food/museums, I get all in an excited tizzy thinking “Oh boy, I’m headed to the big city! I get to put together an interesting outfit that people in my rural area would think is too fancy; this will be fun!”

        Then I arrive in DC and remember that majority of people there are dressed just as plain as my town, if not leaning a bit more preppy/business-y…

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      That DC uniform highlights gender disparities to me. I (female, despite the username) sometimes walk into a conference room and notice that 100% of the people in the meeting are wearing button-down shirts within a certain white and pale blue color palette, and I’m wearing something wildly different color-wise even if it’s the right level of formality.

      In a slightly more casual office the range of men’s shirt colors and patterns would be wider, but in my office at a certain level of seniority there’s very little variation. I’m jealous that masculine-presenting folks who can pull of this look can just find some pants and shirts that fit, buy a bunch in a few boring colors, and not think about what they’re going to wear very much on a day-to-day basis.

      1. Kinship*

        Have you read Deborah Tannen’s essay on markedness? She borrows a term from linguistics to basically argue that men have the option to dress in a way that is “unmarked” — neutral, the norm, not carrying any particular significance — while women do not — our clothes always signify something. Its helped explain something in my own experience. For example, on Zoom calls in my own field (tech) I constantly feel self conscious about necklines, hairstyle, shirt color in a way that my male colleagues do not. I’ll drop a link in a reply comment, it’s a great read.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          Oh, thank you! I’m looking forward to reading that.

          So many things in our society are gendered and we don’t even realize it.

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          Oh, interesting! I’ll have to check it out. What you describe definitely matches my own experience.

        3. MissMaple*

          Thanks so much for pointing to that essay! I’ve tried to describe this exact thing to my husband for years but never quite had the words. We’re both engineers in the same field with the same title, and I’ve always envied that he can just put on a button down and khakis and be good to go

      2. Lady Kelvin*

        My husband used to get SO MANY compliments on his shirts when we lived in DC. He would wear a suit but I had bought him a rainbow of button-ups to wear with ties to coordinate because he looks good in color. He stood out (in a good way!) compared to all the other guys wearing blue or white shirts only. Now we live in Hawaii and had to fill out his wardrobe with tasteful aloha shirts so he wouldn’t stand out too much.

        1. Blue Horizon*

          Ah, the tasteful aloha shirt. So crucial for business casual in Hawaii, so useless anywhere else. This is why every good guide to business casual starts with “it depends.”

  10. Chocolate Teapot*

    4. My first contact with a recruiter is usually when applying for a position, with the exception of meeting at a business networking event. I have also found that some recruiters are better than others, and sometimes there might be conditions. One recruiter wanted me to sign exclusively to their company, but with no guarantee they would find me a job. Nice enthusiastic noises are not the same!

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I have never heard of that request from a candidate to sign exclusively with one recruitment firm – I’d say that’s a bright red neon flag!!

      I have a recruiter friend whose mantra is “I find people for jobs, not jobs for people”.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I agree with your friend, and it’s amazing how many people don’t understand the distinction. Candidates should be treated politely and professionally, but they are not the client.

        The recruiter ‘works’ for the candidate when the candidate’s needs and interests support the paying client’s needs.

      2. Yorick*

        They usually ask you to sign exclusively with their firm *for that position*, but asking for it in general IS a huge red flag!

  11. NerdyLibraryClerk*

    For #5.
    I associate business casual with L.L. Bean, mostly because that was the source of my dad’s work apparel (college instructor, later administrator). And, to be honest, it’s the source of a decent amount of mine (along with other similar sources for solid color polos and assorted button down shirts).

    I also sometimes wear waistcoats, but I haven’t found a good source for them. The ones I have are thrift store acquisitions. It seems like most of the ones available for purchase new lean either goth or wedding.

    But it all depends a lot on the workplace. What’s typical business casual in a college or library might not be in a business setting, which might not be in yet another setting.

    (I’m not a trans guy, but I am a nonbinary person who dresses out of the men’s department.)

    1. mreasy*

      My husband wears vests (aka waistcoats) and also has the damnedest time finding them. He ends up ordering online, usually from overseas, and the sizing can be confusing.

      1. TheLinguistManager*

        It’s worth noting that waistcoats aren’t usual business casual wear and will ping people’s radar as A Style Choice (one I sometimes choose! but I’ve worked mostly in very casual offices). Depending on what “business casual” means in your office, you probably get one (1) Unusual Style Choice per outfit – a floral button-up, say, or a fun pocket square in a casual jacket, or having your outfit be non-neutral-colored. A waistcoat could be that choice but it’s outside normal business casual style.

        I get the impression that LW is just trying to get their head around basic men’s fashion, so I would say not to reach for a waistcoat until you feel like you’re on solid ground. That said, clothes are expression and once you have that solid ground, you can start to play a little.

        Men’s fashion is subtle and often badly-understood, but there’s some really great stuff out there (though less for larger body types). Good luck and have fun exploring!

        1. Angstrom*

          On the other hand, a sweater vest can be a great cool-weather layering option over a button-down shirt. Something like a solid navy blue v-neck will go with a lot of shirt and pants options and can pull the outfit together.

    2. SGK*

      Another transmasc library person here (I think libraries are probably more flexible with dress codes since we’re allowed to be a bit weird). I find some waistcoats on Etsy–there’s sometimes a bit of trial and error with the sizing, but the pattern options are excellent. Somebody else commented that they’re definitely more a statement than conventional office clothing, and that’s definitely something for OP to keep in mind. On the other side, I like that they add another layer over my chest area, which can be nice for some transmasc folks.

    3. sagc*

      Yeah, let me be another person to flag up that a waistcoat – especially one that was part of a suit in the past, or looks like it even could have been – will look intentional, and isn’t really part of what I’d call the “easy” range of business casual.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I’d think of a waistcoat as pretty formal (although in fairness the only men I’ve known who wear them have been wearing them as part of a three piece suit and are definitely aiming for the formal end of business attire, or Silks, which is very niche and very formal!)

        1. quill*

          One of the guys in my college cohort was a huge fan of the waistcoat and the fancily-tied tie. When he and I showed up to lecture on Fancy Fridays you would not have known we were going to geology class.

    4. LP*

      For everyone who’s posted about vests being masculine statement pieces. I agree with that. I’d just like to vote in favor of them for LW. Please wear a sweater vest and round glasses and be the transmasculine Giles from Buffy of literally all of our dreams.

      Thank you.

  12. KayEss*

    Recruiters I really think has to be a field-dependent thing, because I’ve spent a total of years job-searching and have NEVER had a good recruiter experience. Before I figured out the game, I think I had two out of more than a dozen positions actually turn out to be real jobs: one was so bad they were clearly trying to fill it with whatever warm body would take it, and the other was one I had already applied to and been rejected from (via ghosting, naturally). Many more times than that, I got calls that didn’t mention the job I had ostensibly applied for at all, just collected my info and said they’d contact me if they found a suitable position. One wanted me to drive an hour downtown to do that in person for some reason… I sensed this was unreasonable and refused, because again, they didn’t actually have a job to put me forward for EVEN THOUGH I HAD RESPONDED TO A LISTING MADE TO LOOK LIKE A REAL JOB. There was no job. It was a fake job to collect candidates to make their numbers look good.

    After that, I learned to kind of tell when a job posting was just a cheap recruiter scraping for resumes. Linkedin is FLOODED with them in my field, like my last job search they’d just bomb once a week and 80% of the new listings would be identical but with the location changed to every individual suburb in the greater metro area. I have never gotten a job listing proposed from a recruiter as an email follow-up (and they keep emailing me after I’ve unsubscribed) that was even slightly interesting, and more often they’re completely unrelated to what I do. Again: looking for any warm body.

    Unless you’re director level or above, I strongly feel that a recruiter will get you nowhere. There aren’t secret, unlisted job openings that only recruiters have access to for entry- or mid-level; all the jobs are out where you can find them yourself. My experience is that a recruiter will save you exactly zero time or stress in your job search, and as an industry will largely be a hindrance.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      My friend has worked with something like 20+ recruiters and frankly, they all sound terrible. Flaky, or promising her things that the job won’t actually do.

    2. Forrest*

      It does depend a lot on the sector. I’ve got some good temp-to-permanent admin jobs by finding out which recruitment agency the hospital trusts use, and going to them. I work with lots of law graduates who want to get paralegal jobs for experience before they qualify as solicitors, and a huge amount of those jobs go through recruiters. Most teaching assistant jobs around here go to agencies. So it’s definitely a know-your-field thing.

      What definitely can’t hurt is talking to recruiters during your graduate job search. Have some conversations, and ask questions about how often they work with graduates and what kind of roles they work with, and you’ll find out pretty quickly whether they can help you. A lot will just tell you straight up that they only work with more senior roles. Some will have the conversation, sound very positive, take your details, and then you’ll never hear from them again. As long as you keep running your own parallel job search and don’t just sit back and expect the recruiter to do all the work for you, there’s not much to lose.

    3. Saraquill*

      I still remember a job fair when I handed one recruiter my resume and he was horrified it was two pages long, yelping no one would hire me. The next day he tried connecting to me on Linked In. Another recruiter negged me loud enough to draw an audience. I took my resume back and fled.

      1. quill*

        This is why I don’t go to job fairs. If a recruiter is going to be condescending to me about my resume I’d prefer it to be on the phone, where I can simply hang up.

    4. TheLinguistManager*

      I agree – I’ve had almost no good recruiter experiences. Almost.

      I know one single good recruiter. I met him while he was still an internal recruiter and he now runs a small (2-3 person) targeted recruiting firm and is very good at it. I point other people his way because I know he actually tries to match people to jobs, and doesn’t pull the kind of BS I have seen from other recruiters.

      But any other external recruiter, especially from a big firm? Nah, stay the eff away, especially in the tech industry. During my first job search out of college, I had a recruiter tell me that if I wanted to take the interview they had lined up, I needed to agree ahead of time that I’d take the job. Uh… isn’t that what the interview is for? The experience has not improved since.

    5. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

      As a new master of engineering grad, at the start of the pandemic, my son worked with a recruiter who ultimately connected him with a good job that turned out. She worked with him for a few months and he thought she was terrific.

      Field dependent and luck of the draw?

      1. Cat Tree*

        I’m in engineering and recruiters are a big part of the process. In-house recruiters that work directly for the company are usually good. Third party recruiters are used by most companies that aren’t big enough to have in-house recruiting and they are a mixed bag. Some are quite good, many are so-so, and a few are terrible and basically spam a list of contacts to see what sticks.

    6. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I strongly agree. About the only area where recruiters add any value is when the search is for a highly specialized skillset that must be poached from a competitor, and a recruiter with knowledge of the industry (the vast majority of them do not have this!) might be able to reach someone who’s not actively looking or someone open to relocation. For an entry-level job, recruiters are completely worthless to both jobseekers and hiring managers.

      I could count on one hand the number of good recruiters who really know my sub-field. The vast majority of them are just blindly matching keywords, and don’t really understand the position they’re trying to fill. I was in a situation where my grandboss insisted we go through an agency to fill a low-level QC technician job (that anyone could be trained to do, and we had previously promoted plant floor workers for this role). The agency kept insisting that there were no qualified candidates, which I found highly implausible. The truth was that there were no perfect matches between the keywords in the job description and the keywords in the resumes.

      I also get time-wasting phone calls all the time from recruiters who don’t understand my field. No, I don’t want a 6-month contract gig paying 1/3 of my current salary and with a lower level of responsibility than I had in my first job as a new grad!

      1. quill*

        3 month contract in location across the country, in a field I don’t actually have experience in. I swear, some recruiters being replaced with email spambots would IMPROVE the experience. You can at least train a spambot to match search terms on a resume.

    7. Lora*

      Very field dependent. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with recruiters. In my field they’re often used to hire for the following jobs:

      -Fairly high level jobs, senior scientist / engineer and up
      -Jobs that are so crappy nobody wants to work for that particular department, company or hiring manager and everyone who has a decent network already knows what a nightmare that job would be, so HR is casting a wide net trying to find people from outside the area who want to relocate
      -Odd little highly-specific niches like equipment or piping design where they really need specific experience
      -Mid-level jobs that need to be filled NOW NOW NOW because the company has been crappy about succession planning and the incumbent is retiring / going on extended leave / quitting next week and OMG they are so hosed if they don’t get a body with a pulse in there by Monday.

      I lucked out big time on a couple of positions due to the last circumstance, someone in a critical role leaving and they absolutely had to get a pair of hands pronto even if the person wasn’t a perfect fit. Since the recruiter got paid based on my salary, they pre-negotiated what a white male salary would have been – thereby getting me huge raises I probably wouldn’t have been able to negotiate for myself. I’ve also been in the “nobody who knows any better would take this crappy job” positions due to headhunters, but I needed the money badly enough to ignore the University of Alabama marching band’s worth of red flags…

      Currently I’m at Associate Director / Director level and working with a few headhunters to level up, and it’s been great having my salary pre-negotiated again. They know what it would cost for a white man, so they’re angling for that salary. My field is also notoriously sexist with a lot of pay disparity (I’m routinely the only woman in the room), so this is a huge deal to me. The biggest thing IMO is to watch out for the ones where the company is using a headhunter because it’s such a hellmouth of a place that everybody local has already heard the war stories and declined to apply.

      1. Smithy*

        In my sector, beyond the senior roles – I find that there’s a good segment of jobs that a combination of being very niche and representing internal pipe dreams. Not that they’re paying too little for what the job is, but more so “oh, wouldn’t it be great if there was a person who had senior level skills sets in A, B, and C and could combine that to summon Captain Planet”.

        Not that the jobs or their desired candidates are entirely fictional…..but it’s close.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is an excellent breakdown of how/when we use recruiters (other than the last because we are succession planners to the best of our ability – but sometimes, shit does happen, best laid plans and all). Basically, they’re most useful to target qualified candidates who aren’t specifically looking for new job or for jobs that don’t tend to be posted publicly associated with the organization (like C-level positions).

        I have never used a recruiter for an entry level position because they’re expensive and we don’t have trouble finding excellent candidates with a simple job posting (quite to the contrary, we tend to get hundreds of applications per entry-level position). I’d rather keep the recruiting fee in my budget to pay bonuses or better raises.

        Good external recruiters are hard to come by, but there are some who are very good to both employers and candidates and become quite successful without the bag of tricks you see from most crappy recruiters.

    8. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I’m in tech, and I have worked with good recruiters, but they were never working FOR me. The good ones were good communicators who took the time to understand what I do and build a productive relationship, but it was very clear they were filling slots given to them by employers.

    9. cncx*

      I’m coming off of a job search in IT and 9 out of 10 of my experiences with recruiters were absolutely horrible.
      Most recently, this week, a guy had a fake job posting which i fell for, had a phone screen in june at which time he promised to send in my cv to his very important client, nada…suddenly he has a job opening and is blowing up my phone, almost nine weeks later.

      Had another external recruiter use their intern to do a fake phone screen with me to get her experience up- i found the job posting on the company’s website where the company’s version had a criteria that excluded me from the running, which the intern used as an excuse when they called me back the next day.

      Another internal recruiter made me rewrite my cv in a third language and promised me it was a shoo in for the hiring manager, then ghosted and like, fair enough, but he knew the rewrite was a time sink for me and asked me to do it anyway for a fake job. i would have appreciated a follow up call when he know the time i spent on the cv at his request (most of the jobs i applied for took my english cv). I actually dragged him to my network the most, because don’t make someone work for something you have no intention of following up for other than getting your numbers up. Like do like the first dude and just collect the info i have on hand and put me on your list.

      I don’t talk to external recruiters any more, and i run it by at least two or three friends in the industry before i talk to an internal one. I’m tired.

      1. cncx*

        oh some more fun with external recruiters, the ones that cold call for a phone screen during business hours…when you already have a job…for a fake job they just want to add to their list…i get that recruiters have the same office hours we do but like, if you’re just blowing smoke at me, do it at lunch, or like five pm, don’t be calling me at 10:38 expecting me to drop everything at the job still paying my bills so you can tick a box somewhere that doesn’t benefit me at all.

        Yeah i still have a chip on my shoulder about recruiters.

    10. Engenuity*

      I have a couple of certifications in X because of a technical role selling X, so nearly daily I get some version of recruiter asking “hey, would you like to join our team of X implementers?” on LinkedIn. I have never implemented X, nor would I want to go in that direction as it would certainly be longer hours and less pay than my current role in sales. Most of my colleagues in similar roles agree, but all of us get pelted with these messages on the daily. I’m guessing it’s just really hard to find X implementers and this is what they have to resort to.

      That said, I got my first job in this industry because a recruiter found my resume online and thought I’d be perfect for a position at a company where she was recruiting for a totally different role, so it’s possible to luck out, though I wouldn’t recommend a recent grad bank on that. Even now, my strategy is just to be polite to everyone – even the “spray and pray” recruiters – but also to focus more on networking and to watch specific companies for open roles.

    11. quill*

      Chiming in here, but being in STEM (primarily the QC and pharmaceutical branches) I agree. Mostly my experience with recruiters has been ones that are trying to recruit for short term contracts, and because the industry is pretty unreasonable due to a huge supply of available workers that don’t have a lot of room for advancement (3 month contracts! Shift coverage made of pain for minimum wage! Biotech startups who think that they can get a 100% success rate on any experiment!) recruiters are overall desperate and recruiting companies, which are also the contracting agency that will handle your payroll and benefits (if any) can be pretty shady.

      I’ve personally done the “fake interview at the recruiting company” (put up with it twice because it was one of the only contracting agencies you could get any benefits with, to the tune of one paid day off per year IF the company you worked at was paying,) the people who altered my resume to say things that were blatantly untrue, the people who wanted my social security number before they would even tell me what job they were filling out applications for, and the people who told me after I was hired that I was not allowed to get a job at the same company after my contract ended with them, or even apply on my own, for TWO YEARS.

    12. Golden*

      I don’t get it either! When I just started my job search (biotech) a recruiter called me and seemed positive, but then afterward peppered me with about 10 different rapid fire questions (one per email). Then, less than 2 minutes later, he let me know the position had been filled.

      Afterwards, I realized the position was also in a city an hour further away than what the listing he sent said! Glad I dodged that bullet, and I feel crappy about it, but this and other experiences have really soured me on recruiters.

    13. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      I once had a horrible experience with a rude, arrogant recruiter. Flash forward a few years. I’m not a hiring manager, but in my position I interview people and have significant input into hiring decisions for my group. I got a pitch call from Horrible Recruiter’s firm and was delighted to tell them our staffing needs were fully filled at that time. They asked when they should call me again and seemed just shocked when I basically said don’t call us, we’ll call you. They called again shortly after that with another pitch and I was less nice about saying I told you before, if we ever need you we would be the ones to call you. That worked. It takes a blizzard for some people to get the drift.

  13. Cant remember my old name*

    #LW3. Hmmm. How can you best articulate your work in outcomes and metrics even when close rates are down? Maybe ask your peers to see how they do it!

    Yeah, your clients may be misunderstanding your role from your perspective. But I encourage you to consider your role from their perspective. Because from their perspective, they aren’t in fact paying for your time. To them, they are paying for the outcomes that result from your time. And tbh that’s not wrong…

    I’m sure you wouldn’t pitch your services as “hire me, I work a lot of hours”. You likely pitch yourself as “I’ll provide these services and get these outcomes, and here’s my hourly rate.” So I’d encourage you to keep those service delivery metrics and outcomes central to your conversations with clients while on retainer.

    (Note: That’s not to say that you change anything about your business model, but I think you’ll need to perhaps change how you communicate your business model. )

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      You might also try communicating more often if you can do it productively. If I’m your client, a good publicist might take the time to get to know me, and find out that I used to work at Large Well-Known Newspaper, a fact I might have forgotten to mention because it was a while ago. Then we could collaborate to see which of my contacts from that time is in a useful position to receive pitches. Etc. etc.

  14. Lissajous*

    Regarding recruiters, in my field it’s not unusual for a candidate to contact a recruiter directly and the recruiter to then look at the jobs they have on their books. That’s how I got my last two positions, in fact.
    – I’m in a very quantifiable field (this type of engineer in that industry with Y years experience)
    – a good recruiter then winnows that list down, matching candidate fit to company fit and understanding what each is looking for (and the “good” recruiter changes – place I used the first time was terrible the second time).
    – Absolutely the candidate does not pay the recruiter
    – I did not do this for grad positions

    1. Lissajous*

      And also not in the US, although I would suspect recruiting would work similarly well for my field regardless of location, because it does pigeonhole so well.

    2. Sled Dog Mama*

      In the US and in my field it’s not uncommon to call up a recruiter and say I’m interested in X in locations y, z, a, b, and c what do you have? Three of the big search firms in my field also send out newsletters of anonymized postings listing region (North, South, Southwest etc.), environment (Rural, etc), size of company and other important details, this is always good because you can call a recruiter and say I’m interested in job #432

  15. Sue Wilson*

    #4: You seem to be talking about the rapidly disappearing profession of head-hunters. Without more information about the roles you’re looking for and the experience you have, it’s highly unlikely that getting the roles you’re prepared can be improved with a head-hunter, and so yes stay away from people who want you to pay for that. Most head-hunting has been consolidated into staffing agencies of various sorts. Try those.

    For the record, it did very much used to be a thing that you could pay for a recruiter to find you jobs, and it was legit, but it was pretty much only for specialized and prestigious roles that weren’t necessarily going to be advertised anyway.

    1. Grits McGee*

      Yeah, as I was reading the question I was wondering about employee-pitching recruiters. I’ve seen that kind of thing for very senior level folks, and I could maybe see it for recent grads in highly specialized and in-demand fields, but I can’t imagine a recruiter pitching a recent grad for most positions. The economics of it just don’t make sense. (Unless it’s a scam, of course.)

    2. londonedit*

      I always thought headhunters were recruiters who would contact top-level execs and try to recruit them for a client, rather than people who would look for a job for someone.

      In my industry (book publishing) there are a couple of recruitment agencies, but usually the way they work is just to handle advertising jobs and managing the applications before handing them over to the hiring company. You can also contact them and ask them to keep your CV on file for suitable jobs, and there’s no charge for that, and then when a client asks them to handle a job vacancy that you might be suitable for, they’ll contact you and ask if you’re interested in applying. But I’ve never heard of an agency or recruiter that will actively go out and pitch someone to prospective employers.

      1. Allypopx*

        My understanding is that any place like this that works directly with employees is still working for the company, they just keep employee resumes on file to create a pool to draw from. Even executive search firms have a file of folks for the most part, unless you’re really outstanding in your field.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, that’s what I meant – I’ve probably explained it badly. You can either apply when you see them advertising the company’s job, or you can ask them to keep your details and then when the company instructs them to handle a job, you’ll go into their pile of ‘people on file whose experience matches’.

          I thought a headhunter was someone who would contact a top-level person out of the blue and say ‘Hey, our client Alpha Llama Grooming wants a new CEO and they want you for the job’. That’s what I’ve always imagined when people talk about being headhunted for a role – that they weren’t looking, but a company or a recruiter contacted them and offered them a job.

          1. Quantum Hall Effect*

            “Headhunter” is a colloquial term, not an actual job title. It does tend to refer to independent recruiters or recruiters with a staffing agency Who recruit for a variety of companies, as opposed to a recruiter for Hot Company who is employed by Hot Company and only recruits for Hot Company. Headhunters and recruiters don’t just contact top-level senior people, however. Executive recruiting is a specialty within overall recruiting. Lots of people get contacted out of the blue by recruiters to see whether they are looking for new opportunities. Now that my profile on LinkedIn says that I am open to opportunities, I have had a number of recruiters reach out to me to apply to positions at their companies. It would be fair to say that they are headhunting me, and I am a mid senior engineer not an executive.

            1. Deanna Troi*

              My uncle’s official job title is “Headhunter,” and the company he works for has the term “Headhunter” in its name. He is extremely financially successful. So, it is considered to be a professional term in some sectors.

  16. hallucinating hack*

    LW3, I’m just chiming in here as a journalist (a.k.a. one of the people your clients are pressuring you to get coverage out of) to say that I hugely, wholly sympathise with you. I see first-hand, on a daily basis, how desperate publicists become because of unreasonable clients, and it’s not your fault at all that placements don’t happen. Sometimes a pitch is a bad fit for us no matter how hard the publicist tries to work it. Sometimes we don’t have any more room for a certain type of story. Sometimes we don’t have the time or resources to pick up a story. And sometimes we are buried in emails and messages from all the publicists competing for our attention and just don’t have enough hours in the day to reply to everyone!

    I can’t offer much advice for dealing with your client, but perhaps having the ‘other side’s’ perspective can help a bit with explaining the process to them. Good luck!

    1. Marion Ravenwood*

      As an in-house PR, thank you for this. It is something we try to communicate – that sometimes stories just don’t click for whatever reason – but it’s still useful to have the perspective from outside.

    2. ECHM*

      When I was the editor of a local newspaper, I only ran stories with a local angle, and definitely not stories that were just trying to pitch a product.

    3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Back in the days of mainly paper, I knew a journalist who had two 30-gallon garbage bins to toss the press releases she got that were no-go’s. By the end of the day the bins were packed to the top. I can just imagine the email deluge nowadays.

  17. IrishEm*

    LW 1 Good on you for putting your staff’s (and their families’) collective health above “business norms” and in-person stuff during a global pandemic that is still ongoing and developing new variants.

    I speak as an introvert whose after work schedule always clashed with drinks at the local after hours and I actually socialised more with my team virtually, via zoom than I ever did in-person. Zoom bingo was hilarious, a zoom drinks night was well-received because participants were able to drink what they were comfortable with and no rounds (I can’t take much alcohol and so rounds gets expensive af for me because pints for the team versus my diet coke or fanta or whatever). Definitely suss out if the team are happy to socialise digitally (if you all have screen fatigue then maybe one a month or so, and very opt-in rather than mandatory or opt-out).

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      My more cynical take is that work socializing, even when not mandatory, is something I endure more than enjoy. I have made friends whom I socialize with outside of work individually, but that is different, not “team building exercises.” Zoom versions are better, as I can engage as much or as little as I wish. So, yay, Zoom team building!

    2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Agreed, LW1, your priorities are in the right place. And as Alison occasionally points out, what actually builds strong teams is working together toward common goals.

    3. Girasol*

      Yes, this! Some of the best workplace teams that I’ve been on were with people I only saw in person once or twice over years of working together. I think any manager who says “You can’t build teamwork without being face to face!” lacks 21st century management skills. Rock on, OP 1!

  18. sequitur*

    Non-binary masc-of-centre person here – my work “uniform” since I changed my presentation has usually been dark chinos, a soft long-sleeved crew-neck shirt and some kind of textured knit sweater over the top. I sometimes wear a blazer on top as well, depending how cold and/or dressy I’m feeling. For shoes I tend towards supportive sneakers with insoles because I get plantar fasciitis if I wear less supportive shoes, but my company’s dress code is casual enough that this has never been an issue.

  19. Pleeease*

    LW4 I don’t think Alison’s response is universally correct. I’m outside the US and it’s very common in my field / country for professionals to hire a recruitment agent to help them find a job. However, it is pretty rare to do this at grad level – there are so many companies that explicitly offer grad hiring schemes, and universities run careers fairs etc where employers looking for grads can represent themselves, so it just isn’t really necessary.

    1. Lacey*

      I always laugh when people come to an American website and point out that the content is American. I mean, are you really surprised that Americans are talking about American things? lol

      1. Snailing*

        And yet it can be very valuable to hear perspectives from other locations and cultures.

        1. londonedit*

          I can’t see any problem with people coming along and pointing out that US norms might not translate elsewhere. We know this website is US-based and that any advice is from a US perspective, but why shouldn’t people come to the comments and say ‘Heads up – this is illegal in Australia’ or ‘It’s worth noting that if you’re in the UK, this isn’t a norm, so it might look odd if you try it’. The website might be US-based but the readership is global.

          1. Snailing*

            My point exactly – it’s valuable both for people outside the US who are reading and for us US Americans too. It can only be more helpful to know work norms from different places and adds to the conversation. It’s a good thing for commenters like Pleeese to chime in!

          2. Beth*

            If you want advice that’s relevant to you, why don’t you find an advice column from your own country? Or start your own? It seems odd to come into a space that is clearly American and try to make it be global or expect Alison to make it global (which many commenters clearly do expect). Not everything that we do has to be accessible to the whole world.

            1. Allypopx*

              I think that comes off more hostile than you intended. The advice may not be universal, but if we can acknowledge that and add addendums in the comments for other countries this blog can be useful for people from all over. A lot of the advice that’s less culturally specific is transferrable, and a lot of us like hearing how things differ in other places (plus that makes it doubly useful for people who emigrate or work internationally). The internet is global and there’s no need to gatekeep. Plus it benefits Alison to have more exposure.

              1. Expiring Cat Memes*

                Not to mention the optics of insisting it’s “an American site” for talking about American things, when her books are marketed and sold internationally.

                1. Nanani*

                  At least some of the translated versions are marketed as “look how -different- America is,” it’s worth noting.

            2. Snailing*

              Pleeease’s comment was not expecting Alison to give international advice, but rather was expanding the conversation to provide a different point of view. Many US companies are multinational and American can still benefit from understanding alternate contexts.

              What seems odd to me is that people are resisting input from other cultures/countries. When I read a comment like Pleeease’s, as a US American, I think “Oh, how interesting” not “Ugh, get out of here with that non-US perspective; how dare you comment.” The latter is pretty actively against AAM’s inclusive atmosphere, which can still exist when Alison’s advice is clearly US-based.

            3. Maltypass*

              That’s not really fair, Ask A Manager is pretty unique and has been around for years, you can’t just find that anywhere. I’m sure the repeated comments do get frustrating but you have to remember that they’re probably from new commenters each time, some are genuinely just saying in their country things are different, and that while this site is US-centric the Internet is not. There’s no US flag flying on the banner here so while it’s obvious to Allison and the community that the advice is US centric it isn’t to those who just click in – and even then I used this site for years as someone who works in retail assuming the advice was universal as a lot of it was office type norms and I just assumed they applied anywhere. TL:DR it’s not obvious to everyone outside of the US that the advice is American specific and this cycle is likely to repeat so try to be kind about it

      2. Pleeease*

        Wow, the snark really isn’t necessary. I didn’t write “Alison, your advice is wrong” or even “Alison, your advice is not universally correct”. I am sure Alison knows that perfectly well. I specifically addressed myself to LW4 because there is nothing to say whether the letter writer is in the US or not and I thought it could be helpful for them (or another reader in a similar situation who stumbles across this question in future) to know that there are other arrangements on other places. We know from the reader surveys that this site has a large non-US readership, and I’m sure a reasonable proportion of submitted questions come from non-US readers who don’t necessarily realise that the answer to their question varies around the world.

      1. Seriously?*

        See all the comments above yours. Alison’s can’t cover all the norms of all the world because she is based in the US…which is exactly why it’s added value for international commenters to chip in with different perspectives for other international readers. Pleeease’s input is not hurting anyone; move along.

        1. all good*

          But Pleeease’s comment wasn’t just adding a different perspective, it was accusing Alison of being wrong because the advice isn’t true in every country. The advice isn’t *supposed* to be true for every country and those kind of comments, which come up pretty frequently, can come off as complaining and a little entitled.

          1. Seriously?*

            No, Pleeease’s comment didn’t say Alison’s advice was wrong; they said Alison’s advice isn’t universal and then went on to add advice for outside of the US.

            I get that it’s a little annoying for a new commenter to not understand right away that Alison is writing from a US perspective, but its a lot more annoying (and frankly ethnocentric) to see so many people piling on against someone who simply was giving a different perspective. I personally did not read Pleeease’s comment as antagonistic.

            1. Andie Begins*

              I don’t think it’s Pleeease’s comment specifically that is drawing ire here, but as a regular reader and comment-section lurker, it’s a comment of a type that Alison has been fielding a lot lately (I don’t know if it’s any more or less common than usual but I have noticed it the past couple of weeks) about how her advice is “wrong” because of [thing that contextualizes or nuances the advice but doesn’t actually mean that Alison is “wrong”].

              There’s a difference between “fyi for non-American readers, this advice would not be useful in X country” and “this advice is *incorrect* *because* it would not apply in X country” that might not be obvious to the person drafting a comment where they are just trying to convey that the advice is incomplete and offer what they believe closes the gap, but the two sentiments read really differently on the receiving end.

              I know the comment sections are not populated exclusively by regular readers, and a new reader is not going to know that we do have to do this “Alison can only stand by this advice for a US audience” in a *lot*of these comment sections, *and* I have no idea what we could even do to combat that problem given the regular uptake of casual new readers who find the site while looking for job search advice, but I think regular readers are allowed to be a little annoyed about it.

              1. all good*

                Yes, I’ve noticed this pattern too. The problem is that the tone of these kind of comments is usually not, “Here’s an interesting perspective from another country.” If that were the case, I don’t think so many people would be complaining about it. Instead the tone is usually, “You Americans are being too US-centric!” and that’s annoying to hear over and over again on a website that is supposed to be US-centric.

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  I don’t get that vibe at all. I get the impression that international commenters are simply providing other perspectives, which can be very interesting. Of course, if you’re not interested, I expect it can be grating. I have noticed that Americans don’t like hearing about situations where workers have better protection elsewhere.

                  Also, Alison does answer questions from people outside the US, mostly situations where it’s more a matter of applying common sense or finding the right words/angle to explain stuff than needing to know labour laws.

                  So I’m not sure that the website is really “supposed to be US-centric”. Alison makes it clear that she can’t vouch for what would be legal in other countries, and often even for a US-based question she’ll often say she can’t vouch for the situation in any given state. The fact is that she gives managerial advice not legal advice. And good managers are good managers wherever in the world they might be, whatever the culture of the country or workplace. The variables crop up more in how bad the manager is (a heavy drinking obligation won’t be as much of a problem in Saudi Arabia as in Japan for example)

          2. Allonge*

            ‘I don’t think it’s universally correct’, especially followed by specific examples of other practices is not an accusation of being wrong though? At least it does not read like that to me, but English is my second language.

      2. Brent*

        There have been letter writers from other countries before. Quite a few of the regular commenters here aren’t US based, including myself. There was a google survey recently on people’s salaries. You’d find there that many in this site do not work in the US. Alison herself had her book translated in other languages. The site has an international audience and we would benefit from knowing other perspectives (except, maybe, on PTO and leave policies which have been over-discussed).

    2. Quantum Hall Effect*

      It is not universally correct within the US either, except perhaps on the technicality that people do not hire recruitment firms. It is very common for a job seeker to work with a recruiter, either an independent recruiter or a larger recruiting staffing agency. It’s just that we don’t hire them in the US. They are paid by the company who is listing the job opening.

  20. CollarButtons!*

    I followed that link for #5 and oh my god now I finally know what a button-down shirt is! Haha, UK reader here and i think / hope that explains why I didn’t know the exact definition.

      1. londonedit*

        Having Googled, I think we’d just call it a shirt! Does button-down always mean a shirt with those little buttons to hold the collar down? Maybe then we’d call it a shirt with a button-down collar. In the UK ‘shirt’ is almost universally used for the item of clothing that is made from cotton and has buttons down the front and a collar – whereas I’ve seen US people use it to mean ‘t-shirt’ or ‘top’ as well. So if you say ‘shirt’ in the UK, people will picture a classic shirt-with-buttons-and-collar garment (whether the collar has the little buttons to hold it down or not).

        1. Me*

          Button down refers to the fact that it is a shirt that has buttons from hem to hem and a collar.

          Shirt is an all encompassing. Specific types of shirts have specific names like Henley, blouse, button down, etc.

          1. Me*

            This is colloquial use btw. while there is a distinction btw button up/down, you’re not really going to find many people who use it that specifically.

            1. londonedit*

              Yeah, we don’t split those out (apart from blouse) – we’d just say ‘shirt’.

          2. Dahlia*

            Technically button DOWN refers to shirt with the two buttons on the collar. Otherwise it’s a button UP shirt.

          3. Artemesia*

            I thought it referred to those shirts with the buttons on the tip of the collar i.e. a specific type of dress shirt — the rest of them are dress shirts.

            In the US shirt refers to any garment worn by men as tops including undershirts, t-shirts, polo shirts, casual shirts, as well as dress shirts — i.e. the kind designed to be worn with a tie.

            1. Actual Vampire*

              Are there parts of the US where “shirt” is a male-specific term? I’ve never thought of it that way.

              If asked, I would probably define “shirt” as a broad term for any garment that covers the torso (or at least the upper torso, as in a crop top) and is designed be worn against the skin without discomfort (so for example, a soft sweater might be a shirt but a bulky sweater is not).

              1. quill*

                I mean, in the US more broadly, it’s a shirt if it is a torso covering that is meant to be worn with a separate below-the-waist piece of outer clothing and has sleeves / shoulderpieces that aren’t straps. Regardless of if men wear it or not.

                A basketball jersey? That’s a shirt. A tube top? not a shirt.

                Though there is NOTHING commonly worn by men as a separate top that doesn’t count as a shirt, unless it’s a structured jacket, which is… it’s a jacket if it is worn or not due to weather.

                1. Actual Vampire*

                  See, I would say a tube top is a shirt! I think my rule is, if you aren’t naked from the waist up, and you’re dressed in real clothes worn the way they are meant to be worn, and you’re not wearing a dress or jumpsuit, and you’re not wearing a bra with nothing over it, then you must be wearing some kind of shirt. But I can see why this description wouldn’t really make it into the dictionary…

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          A button-down used to mean the collar itself had buttons, but the definition is shifting to include any shirt with buttons, i.e., what the pedants among us would call a button-up shirt. (And I am one of those pedants.)

      2. Liz*

        I had to follow the link to find out, and I’m still not sure! So a button down shirt refers to a shirt with buttons on the collar? I don’t think we call them anything different. They’re just shirts. If we wanted to get into specifics I guess I’d call it “a shirt with buttons on the collar” but it had never really occurred to me that it would be distinctive enough to be referred to by that detail alone. I certainly didn’t know the different collar style had different associations of formality.

        1. MK*

          I always thought the name for the shirts with the buttons on the collar was “Oxford” – but the internet tells me that while most Oxford shirts have buttons on the collar, the primary distinction between an Oxford shirt and a regular dress shirt is that the fabric on an Oxford shirt is a little thicker and more of a basket weave pattern. I learned something new!

    1. Actual Vampire*

      I will admit that I read this comment, snorted, said “who doesn’t know what a button-down shirt is? Isn’t it obvious?”….. and then followed the link and realized I don’t know what a button-down shirt is. And I’m in the US. To my defense, I’m female, and the official dress code at my workplace is “no sweatpants.”

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          This isn’t universal, but I’ve noticed a significant number of women calling regular shirts “button-down,” i.e., the shirts I would “button-up” when donning, but I think of “button-down” as referring to the shirts with button-down collars.

          Just an observation, as it doesn’t affect me if someone else uses the term differently than I do.

          For all I know, my perspective may be the quirk. And sense I’m usually using the term only in my internal monologue while deciding what to wear, my usage doesn’t matter, either.

          1. Snailing*

            Yep, woman from the US here and I think I sue them interchangeably? (I say “I think” because there’s nothing like actively thinking about it to make you second guess what word you usually use!)

            But also I think it’s fairly uncommon of a woman’s button up/down shirt to have buttons for the collar, so for womenswear, it doesn’t really matter, though for menswear, there is a difference.

            Learned something new today!

        2. quill*

          …. wait isn’t any shirt that has buttons along the entire front and buttonable wrists a button down?

          1. Actual Vampire*

            Apparently that’s a button up. A button down has buttons on the collar (to attach the points of the collar to the shirt). At least that’s what I understand from the website at the link in Allison’s response.

            1. quill*

              … yeah I have never heard “button up” used as the name of a sort of shirt.

              You can button up a shirt obviously. But in my corner of the midwest a “button up” is not a thing!

  21. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP5, I think of business casual as a continuum with three pieces of clothing: trousers, shirt, jacket. Each has its own continuum.

    Trousers; jeans (not business casual unless you wear them with a nice shirt and jacket), khakis/chinos (cotton) and slacks (wool, should be tailored, most dressy of the three).

    Shirt: golf shirts, shirt sleeve button down (some come tucked in, some don’t), long sleeve buttons down with patterns/colors, long sleeve dress shirts (usually, but not often, much plainer since they can be worn with a tie).

    Jacket: optional and wearing one pushes you to the dressy side of business casual.

    After that? Mix and match to set the level of dressiness. Golf shirt and khakis? Pretty standard. Dress shirt and slacks? More formal (but still business casual). May be better for a client meeting. Jacket, colorful long sleeve shirt and jeans? Friday office wear that transitions to dinner out that night.

    Buy a few basic pieces of each. Start with standard colors (blues, greys, tans) for trousers and maybe a bit more colors for shirts. Get two jackets to start if you can afford them (skip them if you can’t): one plain blue (it’s essential) and one with a subtle pattern in grey or tan.

    Finally, observe what other men wear. Alison is right: most wear a uniform. See what works and what doesn’t. Also, see where you can vary the uniform and still fit in. I do so by wearing shirts with an interesting pattern, finding a shirt that stands out (e.g., contrasting cuffs), or wearing a jacket. But I don’t take risks with trousers. Bright green shirt with tan slacks? That’s good. Plain blue shirt with bright red slacks? Won’t fly in most workplaces (but may in yours).

    As for shoes? Go to a good store and get assistance. That’s a decision that varies by individual.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Plain blue shirt with bright red slacks? Won’t fly in most workplaces (but may in yours).

      My eyes! My eyes!

      Kidding aside, I agree with almost all of this advice. The only thing I would add is to err on the side of too formal in the beginning and relax as appropriate as you get a better feel for the workplace culture you’re joining.

  22. Bookworm*

    #1: Thank you for asking that question and actually thinking about the possible risks. Many companies and orgs simply don’t and choose to ignore when people bring up concerns, so I’m really glad you took the time to think about it.

    Agree with Alison’s answer. Being in-person absolutely, positively doesn’t make you a better manager. Does it make some things easier? Sure. But there is also the flip side to working in person from the office politics/drama to microaggressions, etc, aside from COVID.

    Please continue to keep your team safe. If one person has already voluntarily told you they’re not vaccinated, seems like you’ve got a case to continue WFH/social distancing. Good luck.

  23. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    BTW, I didn’t mention sweaters because I run hot and very rarely wear them. But that’s another piece you can use. I just don’t have advice on them.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I really like the look of sweaters on men (I’m a woman), but you office would have to be pretty Arctic to make them an everyday choice.

  24. photon*

    LW1 – “Building team morale through Zoom” sounds like hell to me. I get casual chitchat before meetings start, but if you’re forcing your team to meet regularly for “zoom coffee” or something, keep in mind you might be worsening morale for some.

    (I tried hard during the pandemic to meet social needs through Zoom. I quickly burnt out on it. Now I’m just waiting for things to be safe to resume normal socializing, but I’d rather just be introverted until then.)

    1. Allypopx*

      My workplace does monthly zoom lunches where everyone can order themselves lunch that will later be reimbursed and there’s usually a topic of conversation (bad jobs, bucket lists, etc.). They’re optional but everyone comes and really looks forward to them. Non-work conversation with colleagues is so rare right now.

    2. Kotow*

      Agreed! I’m not a fan of Zoom and “team building” through that platform sounds painful. I get why others would not be comfortable meeting in person, but if that’s the case then I’d just rather not interact socially until we can do this the real way.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Many places can’t really do that for going on two years now…we’ve onboarded four new hires in the last 18 months, have a fifth coming onboard later this month. Some of them entry level and they need a way to be acculturated, so to speak. If it were just the oldsters like me, ok, because we have some years of working together and are part of the culture and we’re able to use gchat and such to keep up the collegiality we’ve already established.

        1. photon*

          You can absolutely build community over text-based mediums (like chat) without doing video calls. Look at virtually every online space/community – there are Reddit communities, Slack communities, Discord communities, IRC communities, message board communities, etc. These spaces can form strong cultures and foster closeness without ever meeting on video.

          Zoom fatigue is very real.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Sure, but that’s not universal. I’m 99.9% introvert and would happily go without video calls ever, but we have found that many new hires like them and appreciate the name-to-a-face aspect. We also use corporate IM (direct messaging and chat rooms), email, and phone calls to keep in touch and try not to over-rely on any of them… but the new hires almost always ask if we can do a video call when they reach out. Several of my teams do a quarterly “team building” thing, and they’re always short, structured so people can participate as much or as little as they want and no one is penalized for not attending. These events are incredibly popular with the segment of the team who feels isolated and lonely, which is somewhere between 65-75% based on what I’ve seen in attendence/participation.

            1. photon*

              Sure, that makes sense. My impression from OP is that the meetings might be mandatory. Letting people opt-in to whatever works for them is great.

              Of course, it gets more complicated if there’s asymmetry – a new hire wants video time with a more text-based manager. I mostly just want LW to be cognizant of the dynamic, just in case they are only doing Zoom or are making it always mandatory. Since I didn’t see other forms of teambuilding mentioned, it seemed worth stating.

    3. knitcrazybooknut*

      It depends on the size of the team, but there are online games that can be played via phone or computer. Some are word games, or similar to Apples to Apples where you vote on your favorite answer. I was surprised at the fun level.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        We did a “virtual potluck” that I enjoyed much more than a regular one. It was optional, and those who attended and volunteered to share each showed/explained what food they were eating for lunch that day on a video meeting, with an email thread for recipes that some also chose to contribute to. That way, I got to eat my own food that I actually liked (and knew had been prepared in a kitchen that met my personal food handling standards and without exposure to my allergens), but I got to learn what kinds of foods some of my co-workers liked as well (and got a few recipes to try).

        Note that this is fun as a “once a year” or maybe “once a quarter” activity, and if I had to do it more often than that I’d nope right on out.

  25. Mannheim Steamroller*


    Don’t forget to (quietly) keep the job search going, and be ready to jump ship if the right opportunity comes along.

  26. Rebecca*

    For the publicist (LW #3)…to give an idea of what our PR provides, we receive a contact report each week with an overview of those calls, emails, etc the publicist is making on our behalf. Obviously, something like that would be more work on your part but it does keep us informed about the “invisible” work our retainer covers. We also have a biweekly call so PR can ask us about business updates, product news, new hires, or anything else that might turn into a pitch. I am sure you already do things of this nature but as a business, it helps us to understand that getting publicity is also on us.

  27. cabbagepants*

    A decent remote team-building activity my company did had the company ordering us lunch delivered to our homes, showing off our pets on camera (normally we are a cameras-off company), “two truths and a lie,” and a could other easy free Zoom games on Kahoot.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      To take the opposite view, that sounds to me dreary at best and actively unpleasant at worst. I don’t have a pet, and frankly am not all that interested in yours. Two truths and a lie? I push back against pressure to share personal information. The mere fact that I work with these people is pretty much beside the point regarding my willingness to do this.

      1. Anononon*

        Okay? There’s not going to be one perfect socialization activity, and it sounds like, for you, the answer would be “none”. However, many people do enjoy these.

        1. Allypopx*

          Especially sharing pets! I would enthusiastically do a two hour zoom meeting that was just all of us introducing our pets and telling them they’re all good babies.

          1. Artemesia*

            This would be my idea of two hours of hell on earth. Even when I had my wonderful cats, my interest in meeting yours is pretty limited. This is so much a YMMV sort of situation.

          2. Mental Lentil*

            I would too! I don’t have a pet, but I would be happy to show off George (my dieffenbachia) to everybody!

          3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Lol – the one time my spouse’s company did that (the pet zoom) they got:
            – a stuffed tarantula
            – a stick figure on a post it note
            – a cremation urn containing the person’s dead cat
            – three people with various baby farm birds (ex chicken,duck, turkey, quail, etc)
            – one very confused dog
            – and seven cat butts

            The pet zoom was never repeated (and it was very optional – that was about 1/4 of the total employees….).

        2. AY*

          Like moths to a flame, this comments section always draws people who never want to talk to a coworker, ever, about anything not directly related to work.

          1. Andy*

            While I don’t mind pet sharing at all and zoom games are fine by me, when the relationships are not already good, management or hr organized sharing are often intrusive and uncomfortable. If you are not already socially comfortable, they are draining and feel unsafe.

            You are forced to reveal things about you while fully knowing some people (including or especially management) are just looking for something out of ordinary to judge you on. As in, these are great if you already like and trust each other. They are pretty bad when you have reasons not to trust people.

            And they tend to be unpaid – overwhelming majority of them is taking away what was supposed to be free time.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              I am perfectly happy to be sociable. It is the artificial, forced socializing I dislike. The whole idea being socializing as “team building” is the observation that when a group works well together, they are likely to spontaneously socialize. So if we force them to socialize, they will work well together. Or something. It is at best confusion about the direction of causation, and at worst magical thinking.

              1. tra la la*

                This is how I feel too. We have too much “teambuilding” and few opportunities for actual teamWORK. It feels so backwards.

          2. Observer*

            This is not necessarily about never wanting to talk to a coworker about anything that’s not work. But a significant amount of time spent on people’s pets? People who I’m not already friendly with? No. It’s not that I have a problem with pets. But I just don’t have the time to sit through something like this.

            In a one-to-one setting it would be different. If I am developing a relationship with someone, or I want to, taking the time to hear about something that’s important to that person is one thing. And at the same time, if that person is reasonable, it’s also in reasonably small doses. So, if that person has the cutest pets – or the most terrible, for that matter – it’s a big deal for them and when I ask them about their weekend, I’m going to commiserate if I hear “Oh, I had to make an emergency visit to the vet for Boopsie Cat.” And I’m going to congratulate the person who tells me “I finally was able to teach Doggie to sit and stay.”

            But an hour or two heating all of this stuff from people I don’t really know? It is NOT going to help me feel any closer to them AT ALL. And that’s the best case.

        3. Observer*

          There’s not going to be one perfect socialization activity, ~~~snip ~~~ However, many people do enjoy these.

          That’s true. But if you want an activity that has a high chance of being positive and a low chance of actually creating problems, you need to be careful of the pets one. Because pet ownership is not only not universal – it’s not overwhelmingly common, and a lot of non- pet owners have exactly ZERO interest in people’s pets. For those people this activity winds up being boring at best. And if you have a few pet owners who are cliquish or unreasonable when it comes to their pets, this can get really annoying, exclusionary or otherwise problematic.

          So you absolutely need to know your crowd. And you need to make sure that people aren’t getting stuck with this because they don’t want to say anything.

      2. Pippa K*

        How dare you, my dog is adorable, and you should be so lucky as to have him grace your zoom screen. He has floppy ears! You monster.

        1. Observer*

          AAAANNNND This is the exact problem.

          You are joking, but a lot of otherwise reasonable people get this way for real when they are talking about their pets. I do NOT want to sit through a session of this!

      3. quill*

        At least two truths and a lie is over quickly and you could… always lie? Choose information that is either already publicly accessible or that doesn’t feel personal to you.

        I feel like the key to having a team activity that both accommodates those who need some sort of social interaction while at work and makes it possible for the introverts to not dread it is to keep it brief, universally accessible, and PAID.

      4. Esmeralda*

        Those don’t have to be revealing. I’m a mega-introvert and I find that do-able: I’ve been to all 50 states, I’ve been to Europe, I’ve been to South America: two are true and one is not.

        Looking at other people’s pets and such: eh, basic social lubrication = I talk to people I don’t particularly care for, about topics I don’t find interesting. I’m sure you do too and have done; most jobs do require some minimal social interaction, getting along, and pretending to be interested.

      5. Observer*

        I don’t have a pet, and frankly am not all that interested in yours.

        I don’t DISLIKE pets. But I can’t imagine spending a couple of hours on everyone else’s pets.

        Two truths and a lie? I push back against pressure to share personal information.

        Except it doesn’t have to be personal information. And even with personal items there’s generally plenty of stuff that most people would normally share anyway. Like “I do / don’t like x type of music”; “I prefer to wear X style at work”, “I have a long / short commute to our physical office and it’s great / terrible”, etc.

        1. cabbagepants*

          A couple of hours would be way too long! The pet portion was around 15 minutes while people were slowly drifting into the group Zoom anyway!

      6. pleaset cheap rolls*

        I’d also find the exercise tedious but you know what – if most people like it that’s OK. It’s no big deal so I”ll put up with it if it’s rare, and just decline to attend if it happens too much.

        My boss (our org’s CEO) started a serious of weekly socialization Zooms as we went to working from home last April or May and I didn’t like them. Many people did. So after the first few I started leaving early and eventually skipping 2 out 3. No big deal.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      A great team bonding exercise I did with a client was to have an informal Friday meeting where we exchanged tips, discussed problems in our work, and generally provided help to more junior team members. No managers in attendance – just the people working on the projects. It was really great both from a team-building and a knowledge exchange perspective.

      1. Artemesia*

        To me the key to good team building and also to good ice breakers for training is that they relate to the job in some way. A significant number of people find ice breakers that are designed to be trivial and fun, deadly and a waste of time and the same with team building exercises. Yours is an example that you can have more casual interactions to build relationships that are also useful to people professionally.

    3. LizB*

      My office has an optional 30-minute virtual “coffee break” every other week that most of the team signs on for. Last time we played an online game where you see video of walking around a city somewhere in the world, and have to try to pinpoint on the map where the video is (available at virtualvacation [dot] us, for anyone who’s interested). It was a huge hit for our team!

  28. agnes*

    Thank you for clarifying what recruiters do and who they work for. It is a common misconception that a recruiter helps a candidate find a job. No, they help companies hire employees. They work for who pays them. You should not expect much in the way of face or telephone time with them unless they contact you about a job.

    Someone seeking help with resumes, interview skills, and job search techniques can get help from a career counselor, career coach, employment office, specialty service, and occasionally a life coach. Expect to spend money for this help unless you use your state’s employment office or your college’s career office.

  29. The Dogman*

    LW 2 I think you need to seriously consider a new job. It seems clear they are messing you about, so personally I would be on the job hunt in a major way if I were in your shoes!

    Good luck, you don’t owe them anything outside your contract for sure now, since progression is not an option anymore.

      1. Artemesia*

        Hope you find something fabulous and I guarantee that when you give notice they will say ‘oh but we were just going to promote you . . . ‘ uh huh.

  30. SJ*

    LW #5! Congrats!

    As a recently out transmasc professional person my best advice is a bit sideways of your question — basically (for me and my situation, which comes with enough financial privilege to “waste” a certain amount of money every month) I’ve had to learn to accept that clothes shopping is going to be expensive, and feel wasteful, because half the time I’m going to buy things and end up not liking them or they don’t fit right or whatever. This is 100x true during Covid when fitting rooms are closed! It sucks but I keep telling myself — other 30 something guys have had their whole lives to figure out what kinds of clothes they like / fit well / feel good on them — it’s super super normal that I’m going to have a learning curve and end up buying a bunch of stuff and wearing it a couple times and then deciding actually nope this isn’t me. I donate stuff the minute I decide I don’t like it — no forcing myself to wear things that don’t feed those good gender feelings just because “but i paid for them”. It’s normal. It’s gonna happen. Other guys have a couple decade head start on knowing what they like, I’m not screwing up or failing or being financially irresponsible (I budget for this & spend what I can afford, knowing most of it is gonna get donated in the end.)

    Being trans is expensive in general, it sucks, and again there’s financial privilege in my answer here of course — but I wanted to share anyway how this has been going for me. Sending you one million good vibes, you’re doing amazing.

    Also, can I just say an enormous thank you to Alison for the quality of the nonbinary-friendly and trans-friendly content here lately, it’s just — wow, it’s so cool. I’ve been reading for years and years, but seem to have coordinated my coming-out with the blog leveling up its gender inclusiveness in a big way, and it’s just so nice. And to see all the other trans & nonbinary folks in the comments, too! Amazing. :) :) :)

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’ve had to learn to accept that clothes shopping is going to be expensive, and feel wasteful, because half the time I’m going to buy things and end up not liking them or they don’t fit right or whatever. This is 100x true during Covid when fitting rooms are closed!

      But as a man, at least your pants come in waist/inseam sizes rather than numbers that correlate to almost nothing! :-)

      1. Allypopx*

        While true, and women’s sizing is a whole topic to gripe about, these numbers are less useful for people who are more likely to have secondary sex characteristics like wide hips. And men’s clothes are cut in a way that’s difficult to accommodate a curvy booty or a bust. Trans clothes shopping has a whole bunch of extra frustrating pitfalls.

        1. Artemesia*

          Many cleaners have a tailoring function. It changed my life when I realized I could have things properly tailored — and I discovered this far too late. The cleaners in the high rises near me are all open and functioning; I’d try to find one you can work with to tailor your clothes. Having a regular tailor makes this easier than having to deal every time with getting a good fit.

          I have to have a process of folding my husband’s clothes differently from mine when I do laundry — I fold his and roll mine– because we wear much the same stuff. If as a trans man you still have female body structural issues like hip/waist ratio, then looking for women’s wear that will work as non binary or masculine. I have dress slacks that are not very different from men’s slacks, but designed to fit women’s bodies. tops are a problem because they button and zip on different sides and so a woman’s jacket or shirt will send a subtle signal. I didn’t realize this until I started wearing men’s shirts as jacket e.g. flannels or sweaters or travel shirts since I am tall and they often worked better than those cut for women.

      2. quill*

        If you have any noticeable amount of hip or butt, the inseam becomes the only reliable measurement on men’s pants though. I’ve worn men’s pants before, and like women’s, I always have to try them on and usually have to resign myself to making alterations. Granted, there was a bit a few years back when it was better for me to use men’s pants because at least the waist was high enough for me to make alterations, while the legs were at least large enough around to get your knees into… and now that you can find women’s pants that are high waisted but not skin tight to a toothpick in the thighs and knees, I’m a much happier camper in the pants department.

    2. Joielle*

      You can also use Amazon wardrobe to try stuff on at home without spending money! You can pick out clothes and try them on for free, with free return shipping on anything you don’t want to keep.

      And if you don’t want to support Amazon (same here) you can send everything back regardless, and buy whatever you like from a different company.

      But yeah, totally agreed that trying stuff on is the best way to figure out what fits and goes together well and looks how you want. Eventually you’ll figure out a few go-to styles and brands and you can build from there. Good luck, LW!

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Shoemaker’s children problem – that’s a common saying in my industry, and it seems to apply to others. ie. you can be great at what you’re doing for others and lousy at doing it for yourself.

      1. Paige*

        This. One of my parents runs a construction company–growing up, home projects/fixes just didn’t get done until we were going to have company or a client was coming to visit. They had a half bath at the far end of their house (no one who didn’t live in the house would ever need to use it) that was non-functional until they put the house on the market. It’s not that they couldn’t deal with it, it’s just that by the time they got home, they wanted to unplug from work stuff. They were always going to get around to it in a couple of weeks, but something else more urgent (and that would actually affect their income) usually came up.

        But it does seem weird for a publicist to have this issue, since I’d assume not pitching themself well *would* affect their income.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Yeah. My dad was an outstanding high school counselor. Had a great rapport with adolescents. Just not his own. Shoemaker’s children is what my mom always says…

  31. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    #5: I’m wondering if part of the issue is that you’re subconsciously expecting menswear to be more varied than it is. Women can wear dresses or skirts or pants, and if they wear pants they can wear leggings or paperbag pants or palazzo pants or fancy slacks or a dozen other options. Men wear pants. Yes, there are differences in the fit, details and material between a pair of jeans and a pair of suit pants, but the outline is generally the same compared to women’s clothes.

    If you want to be snazzy, there are infinite layers of details. But basically we’re talking pants and a shirt.

  32. EPLawyer*

    #2 – I’m just going to lay this out here: Your company is circling the drain. It’s not just you they are jerking around. They promised a whole bunch of promotions and yanked them via a company wide email? Huge sign there is no money to PAY these promoted people. Your boss says there are no plans to expand your department? Your company is not growing. CEO meeting 1:1 with everyone — getting an idea of who to cut in the round of mass layoffs that are coming. You are doing stretch work without pay or promotion – they can’t afford to hire people but it still needs to be done.

    If you are not job searching already START. if you have started you need to ramp it up.

      1. SoupSnakes*

        Unfortunately you’re not wrong. That’s my letter, and I fully agree I think it’s a sinking ship. I am definitely looking elsewhere, just having very little luck.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      I agree with your bottom line – LW2 needs a new job because she does not have a growth path in this organization. I don’t quite agree with your rationale. Yes, the company may be in trouble, but the CEO may also be planning Big Changes. It’s clear by now that promoting LW2 will not be part of these changes, but the CEO makes vague hints to keep LW hopeful and productive.

  33. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    For #1, I think the best way to help a team bond is to ensure there are no barriers or penalties to cooperation, and to value cooperation (both giving and receiving) at review time.

    For #2, unless I had a strong bond with the CEO already, I would go grey rock and lie low for this meeting. Update the résumé and compose a few cover letters on your own time. I think digging into the promotion that won’t happen has too many ways to go sideways on you.

  34. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP3, some of my work is also “invisible” to my team / internal clients, or least the output does not appear to equal the input. Think, 2 days spent combing the internet for research on how retirees use their credit cards >> a half-page summary (or nothing, sometimes).

    You can make your work more visible by providing details of the pitches you’ve written, and who you sent them to, and why; include the results and if possible, reasons (e.g. “Bob at the Llama Times says that their readers aren’t interested in llama grooming product reviews, so I suggest we change focus / look at other outlets”).

    It might be helpful to communicate to them what coverage their competitors are getting, if you have capacity. Maybe everyone is getting equal coverage, or maybe they getting more because they are sponsoring a column, or sending samples, or just have more interesting products.

  35. Bluesboy*

    Disclaimer: I’m not in the USA (I’m in Italy) so this might not be accurate where you are. Also, I’m aware that I write as though everything is a rule – ignore that, it’s just how I write…you can absolutely play with anything you want, these are just suggestions for someone who is unsure how to wear business casual.

    I think a huge part of the trick to dressing business casual is that everyone interprets it differently, which means a huge amount of variety between offices and an outfit that is too formal in one setting is too casual in another.

    So given you are clearly uncertain about how to interpret it, I would suggest you start out with outfits that can be dressed up or down even in the moment if you feel out of step with your office or your client’s office. And fit is everything. Remember that if your budget permits you, made-to-measure shirts are not as expensive as many people think, in particular when you consider that (at least in my experience) they often last significantly longer than cheaper shirts.

    For the shirt, if in doubt, go with plain white or light blue. If you have a pattern, say stripes or checks, I would normally say that the larger the stripe/check, the less formal it is. So I would stay very clean and simple, and then if that feels too formal, roll your sleeves up. Too informal? No problem because you have…

    A well fitting jacket. Want to ‘posh it up’? Pocket square. Want to dress it down, well, just take it off! If you are confident that a jacket isn’t necessary then a well-fitting cardigan looks good, but it must be well fitting, a baggy one becomes too casual.

    Trousers are relatively simple, as long as they fit well. Chinos or khakis are perfect, nothing with gigantic pockets. Avoid jeans unless you pair them with a jacket, and even then it depends on the office. The darker they are, the more formal.

    Shoes should always be clean, but shiny makes them too formal.. I would suggest brown, which is smart but not as formal as black.

    I also tend to carry an ’emergency tie’ in my bag. So at any given time if I feel overdressed, the jacket comes off and I roll up my sleeves. If I feel underdressed, the tie and pocket square come into play.

    One item providing a splash of colour works, but generally not the trousers and not more than one.

    Escapee from Corporate Management’s comment is also excellent, the only thing I would disagree with is about golf shirts, but I think that’s just cultural. That wouldn’t work here, but given how excellent the rest of the comment is, I would be confident that it’s accurate where Escapee is.

    1. Allypopx*

      This is great advice for all genders. When in doubt wear something versatile! I do this a lot if I don’t know if visible tattoos will be okay, or what the temperature will be (if I get hot my rosacea flares up and it does not look cute). An easily removeable outer layer or an accessory or two that can be popped on/off if you misjudged are great outfit savers if you’re unsure what to expect.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Thank you for the kind words. I am in the US and my industry tends to be more casual than others. For us, a golf shirt is appropriate, but I would never wear one for business meetings in Italy. On the other hand, I find I can be more fashion-forward in Italy. For example, a pink shirt on a man seems much more accepted in Italy (and several other European countries) than in some industries in the US.

    3. pleaset cheap rolls*

      This is all good stuff.

      One other thing – which may not work for the OP – is considering scarves. I’m a guy who used to wear ties fairly often at work. Not with suits but with a sport jacket. So toward the top end of business casual. I couldn’t bring myself to wear a tie much in working from home – it just seems a little weird. So I started wearing scarves and it rocks. I get compliments, look a little flash but not formal. I’m going to keep this up more even if I go back to the office.

      Golf shirts are the must casual of business casual. Very very casual – particularly that shiny “tech” fabrics some of them have.

  36. A Genuine Scientician*

    My university produces a guide that they update every couple of years of various levels of formality of dress for both men and women to give students an idea of how to calibrate things for interviews or internships. Formality levels do differ in different geographic locations. This is one of the few things I’ve yet to see a university career center screw up. It might be worth checking if one of the schools near you does a similar thing.

    1. Artemesia*

      I am from the PNW and my brother went to Harvard Business School. When he came back to visit after the first semester he told me of going to an outdoor party at someone’s home that was billed as casual. He showed up in shorts (probably Bermuda shorts back in the day — it was before cargo shorts) and polo shirt and his wife was also in shorts and top. Everyone else was wearing a linen jacket and slacks with a collared shirt with no tie and the women were in summery dresses. Dress standards are definitely regional although everything has trended much more casual over time.

      1. metadata minion*

        I kind of wonder if this is also a Harvard Business School specific thing — there are certainly tons of regional variation in what “business” means, but I live in the Boston area and normally “casual” here would totally mean shorts and t-shirts. Maybe not anything too snarky on the t-shirts if it’s a work-people event.

      2. Simply the best*

        Yep I always tell people that I live in Seattle and we can’t have casual Fridays because that would just be…Friday. Anymore casual and we would be naked.

        So we just have Seahawks Fridays instead.

  37. MissDisplaced*

    3. My clients don’t understand the work I do for them
    I feel this is very much a expectations and monthly communications reporting thing.
    Like, per the retainer this is how much “expected work” I do for you every month: XX pitches, XX calls, XX social media, etc.
    Reporting would be the same per month: XX pitches to ABC, XX calls, XX social, etc., Led to XX stories, interviews, whatever with AB and C.

    It’s kind of a given that some months will be higher than others. Also, do you have a per project plan for those not on a retainer? If you do get the grumblers, you might offer to switch them to a project-based plan if it makes more sense. I’m thinking here of people like authors that may only have 1-2 book launches per year and maybe they make more sense to be project-based for a few months for each. Usually, those are higher priced services, given the timeliness of the projects.

    Good luck though! I also work in creative marketing and it can be so hard to get people to see the value of creative work because it’s so subjective sometimes and there is so little respect for it. Like, really do you question your accountant or dentist about the value of their work?

  38. anon for this*

    In reference to letter #1, how does it work when the rest of the team is in person and the manager is at home? My manager has continued to work from home over the last year that the rest of us have been asked to be mainly on site. We are all vaccinated, because our workplace requires it (thankfully!). It has become increasingly difficult for work to flow smoothly since the only person who is allowed to be full-time remote (by her own order) is our manager. The rest of us are here. Everyone has tip-toed around the topic because she gets very defensive if anyone suggests it might be helpful for her to be here to oversee x, y, or z. She may have a health issue, but many of our staff who also have health issues were asked to work on site (by her).

    1. MissDisplaced*

      That’s really jerky unless she has a very good reason for it, like a serious health issue. Does she respond in a timely manner to requests and meetings?

      I am always suspicious of this kind of behavior with managers. Because if she really is so pro-WFH, it would’ve been a case of “The office is open if you want to go in, or you can WFH. Let me know your schedule.”
      Sometimes these people are playing a game of some type.

      1. anon for this*

        Sadly no, forced us to be on site at the height of COVID while she remained at home. Weirdly, there were times when she would come to the building but never to her desk or to the department, and she would run away when she saw us. She’s also a micromanager and slacks/emails constantly about the tiniest things because she’s not here to see/do them. I’m looking for a new job for this reason.

        1. No Name #1*

          Are people able to address any of these issues with her manager? It’s frowned upon a lot of the time to go over someone’s head but it seems like any attempts to address things to your manager directly have been shut down. Maybe there’s a way your colleagues could band together on this if you’re able to bring it to her manager.

  39. Brave Little Roaster*

    OP #5, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Dapper Boi (dapperboi dot com) for menswear that can fit a lot of body shapes. And Tomboy Toes, menswear shoes in smaller sizes. Also for business casual, I think the look that all genders can do is to mix more and less formal items together- so a solid color crew neck sweater and khakis with nicer sneakers is one choice, or an untucked button down, dark jeans and loafers/dress shoes is another option.

    1. DataSci*

      I’ve heard good things about Dapper Boi too, and they totally fit my style, but their insistence that nobody in their target market could possibly want an inseam longer than 32″ means I still haven’t bought anything from them.

      1. Brave Little Roaster*

        That’s a bummer for sure :( I saw that OP was asking about “how can I tell what is ok for business casual” versus “where can I buy stuff” so I felt like Dapper Boi was helpful for seeing how button-ups and the like look on certain body types. Hope you find something that works for taller folks!

  40. Firecat*

    #4 It’s actually pretty common for a recruiter to connect themselves to particularly high up executive and manage their applications. When I was speaking with our director – she’s literally in the hall of fame on our industry – she told me she hasn’t applied to a job in 15 years. Her recruiter handles all that.

    But there is no way a fresh out of college grad is going to get this level of care.

  41. quill*

    #5: Two of the trans guys of my aquaintance have sworn by ties over button-downs, especially ones that can be tied more interestingly than the standard tie knot. It’s apparently a very easy way to bring color and accessorizing into an outfit, while being the most masculine accessory most people will ever see. A few other guys I’ve known take pride in their sock collection. So if you find the men’s business casual “uniform” of khakis and polos, or khakis and button downs boring, try ties and socks!

  42. Canonical23*

    I’m nonbinary, have an AFAB-style body and switched from womenswear to menswear at work. Business casual for men is pretty simple (khakis, chinos, any twill-fabric pants that are a *little* nicer than jeans & a button-down, sweater and/or polo). The main thing I’ve learned is that a lot of it comes down to cut. If you buy a button down and slacks in the same color from the womens department and the mens department they’ll still look totally different.

    Figure out what size of mens pants that you wear. I’ve found that for your “waist measurement”, measure your waist then your hips. Subtract the waist measurement from the hip measurement to find the difference. Divide the difference by 2 and add that number to your original waist measurement. This is because AMAB hips are narrow, straight and usually are about the same measurement as the waist. AFAB people have wider hips, which means you need to size up the waist appropriately to have some give for your hips.

    Figure out what size of men’s shirt isn’t too baggy but also isn’t too tight. If you’ve worn women’s clothing for awhile, you’re going to be used to clothing fitting your form. That doesn’t mean all women’s clothes are tight or whatever, but there are usually darts sewed into shirts and pants and skirts to fit hips/chests. Men’s clothing is a lot more loose, which for me was a few weeks of a weird transition because you feel like everything is sloppy and baggy, even though it’s just an inch or two more of give in the fabric/cut. Blazers and shirts tend to be a lot longer (they hit the top of the thighs, right under the butt) whereas womenswear cuts of those clothes tend to hit the very bottom of the waistline.

    Also, a really big thing that pulls a menswear outfit together is a belt, a watch (thick band, not skinny) and a pair of mens shoes. For mens shoe sizes, take your size in womens and subtract 2. So unfortunately, if you’re a size 8 or smaller in womens shows (like me!) you’ll be shopping in the teen boys shoe section.

    Thrift and consignment stores are great for finding menswear with unique sizing and tailoring. I’ve found that Target’s menswear tends to fit my AFAB body better than a lot of other similarly priced brands. Calvin Klein is probably the only mid/expensive level brand I’ve tried that has a good fit for AFAB bodies, but I’m cheap and don’t often try brands that charge more than $50 for pants.

  43. Boof*

    LW3 – if your work tends to be “invisible” and you’re a contractor, it’s a really really good idea to update your clients monthly on what work you did and (if it’s not too onerous) roughly how much time you spent on it, if it’s not something that’s obvious. That will give people a much better idea of what they’re paying you for when there’s nothing otherwise visible. Maybe at the end of the year you can give a summary of the results ie “this this and that piece published here here and there” or whatever total metrics make sense.

  44. Happenstance*

    There is a secret to menswear, and it’s this: You can walk into the Men’s Wearhouse and tell them you need to dress “business casual” and 10 minutes later be out the door with all the clothes you’ll ever need. I bet it would work for a transmasculine person as well.

  45. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2 – yeah I had the same stunt pulled on me once, regarding a promotion (well, more than once, but)… my director told me that there was a freeze on promotions.

    I then asked HR about health care, etc., COBRA. WHY? Well, there’s a freeze on promotions, or so I’m told. No IS/IT organization can survive without having a promotion process, nor can they risk not having an off-budget slush fund to handle those situations. SO …. I’m dumping my company stock, and also bailing outa here, I think…I had a couple of calls I’m going to follow up on….

    Turns out HR told me, without saying so, my DIRECTOR IS LYING. There is no freeze on promotions. The next day there was a company-wide letter on that.

    So I caught my director in a lie. This came in very handy when there was a corporate re-org, and we were kinda-sorta-gee whiz asked which director we’d like to work under. NOT HER, and if you force the issue, I’m out of here.

    They didn’t.

    Now, I suspect, if your promotion is over a year overdue, it’s time to start looking. If you find something, expect a counter-offer, or, expect that all the promotions will come through. This is assuming your company is making all of its financial goals.

    If the company’s doing well, and you’re doing your job as you should, and they’re still sticking to their guns, it’s time to go forward with YOUR career ambitions. You might be surprised with a counter-offer – and it will also help your colleagues.

  46. El l*

    Re Business Casual Menswear:
    So this is a tricky and evolving area. It used to just mean, “Khakis, button-down, and sportcoat for when a client stops by”, but there are plenty of places where even that is too formal nowadays. Industry in particular makes a huge difference – what works in West Coast tech is not the same as midwestern law. If it makes you feel better, even a male clotheshorse like me finds it confusing. There’s really no way around seeing what the guys in your industry are wearing, regardless of whether you want to copy them or not.

    So my suggestions which aren’t khakis – see if any of these resonate:
    1. Light jackets for layering – some are blousons (can be in any fabric between leather, linen, and cotton). A very nice choice are chore jackets – an iconic choice is a French blue workers jacket, worn most famously by photographer Bill Cunningham.
    2. Casual button-down shirts: Rather than cliched blue gingham, try linen in summer or flannel in winter. Go to an alterations person, and get the length done on this so that you can wear it untucked if you wish.
    3. Leather sneakers: More formal than the Steve Jobs New Balance, but with a casual-enough vibe. (This and #2 are what I’m wearing as I write this)
    4. Nice sweaters: These class up all kinds of outfits. So much better than the cliched tech bro fleece vest.
    5. Pocket squares on sport coats: Can be worn instead of a tie – very interesting options there, if you’re into that.

    Final thought: Whatever you may remember from womenswear, there should NEVER be a tradeoff between fit and comfort. Don’t compromise on either. Not here. Buy well, but above all, find an alterations person with a good eye, and rely on them.

    Best of luck!

  47. Malika*

    LW4: You can definitely shop around for a recruiter. There is definitely a difference in quality, which is why it helps to set up an information interview with several different recruitment bureaus.

    The best recruiter I ever had took the time to ask the right questions and to see not only where my cv would land best but also in which working environment i would thrive. That lead to a great job that not only saved me from the great recession doldrums but took my career to the next level. She kept in contact and i now also refer her to the HR departments i work for and friends seeking a job within her specialisation. If you take the time to find the right recruiter, it will make a huge difference to the opportunities you are presented with.

  48. cursed epub*

    LW5 – i’m also transmasc (they/he) with a very low patience for dressing up. my super ez uncomplicated top 3 business casual work outfits were:

    1) large zip up jacket + button down shirt + khaki pants + loafer shoes or sneakers depending on how business vs how casual your office is

    2) softish blazer + t-shirt or casual turtleneck + black jeans + ankle boots

    3) collared shirt + loose pullover sweater + khaki pants + loafer shoes or sneakers depending on how business vs how casual your office is

    the way these worked is that i could take off the outer layer outside and/or on warmer days, and put it back on in the airconditioned office and/or on cooler days.

    i also recommend getting a nice leather adult’s backpack if you don’t want to carry a satchel or something.

    some context: asian guy based in tropical southeast asia, worked in a bank and then advertising, straight sized.

    hope this helps!

  49. Allison*

    #4, I work in corporate talent acquisition – basically the in-house recruiting (although I’m not a recruiter, more of a researcher for the hard-to-fill jobs). I don’t like agencies. Any time I’ve job hunted I’d have recruiters wanting to place me, because if they place me or even play a key role in my job search they can then come to me where I work and try to partner with the team to help fill our roles. But while the rare recruiter has been helpful and actually listened to what I actually want in a job, no one has ever, EVER, actually connected me with a job. I’ve always gotten jobs through applications and personal connections; one time I wanted a job and the application looked like a pain, so I connected with the hiring manager and he fast-tracked me through the process.

    There is value in connecting with recruiters at companies you want to work, and being on the radar of agencies that work in your industry, but don’t rely on them. A recruiter is not an agent, their priority is not finding you a job. And if you don’t have any experience, or a degree that has a lot of value right out the gate (i.e. computer science), a recruiter is not going to stick their neck out for you, they’re not going to submit you to roles you’re not qualified for because they have a contract to maintain, if they send poor quality candidates it will tank their relationship with the client.

    That said, if you have a flexible schedule and reliable transportation, a temp agency might be a good start, those gigs will help you develop useful skills that’ll make you a stronger candidate.

  50. Nanani*

    #3 does your contract spell out that you are charging them a retainer?
    Nothing says “pay me and here’s why” like pasting in the wording of your contract, that they agreed to.

    In my understanding, having someone on retainer means paying to retain a certain number of hours. Maybe you drop everything when work from your retainer client comes in, and they pay you even if they didn’t have work available that month. Is that really what’s going on? (or does “retainer” mean a different arrangement in your field? if so ignore this part)

    If it’s more like you think of it as a retainer but clients have a different idea of what the arrangement even is, it might be a good time to send out an updated agreement clarifying that. It’s also possible the disconnect is between the person who initially hired you and the point of contact later on. “As per my initial conversation with soandso” is the phrase you’ll want in that case.

  51. no phone calls, please*

    #2 I’m wondering if there is a reason that OP states “It’s also an attempt to seem relatable on her part.” Is it an assumption or actual knowledge?

    1. SoupSnakes*

      In the email that introduced these calls, they said something along the lines of “trying to connect more” because COVID took away a lot of the bonding opportunities. So they said.

  52. LouisianaAnn*

    LW #2: this statement – “…I’m doing stretch assignments far outside my role with little recognition and no chance at advancement.” Is something to bring up with your manager for sure.

    1. SoupSnakes*

      (It’s my letter) I definitely have. In the last chat, I laid out my departmental goals and said this is what I have the bandwidth to do and I can’t feasibly accommodate anything outside of that unless I’m compensated appropriately or my team expands. They agreed, and at the end of the call gave me an additional research project.

  53. ThatAspie*

    To the non-binary person looking for masculine work clothes: this is gonna sound super weird but I work at a family entertainment center and all of us have to dress in traditionally masculine-leaning business casual stuff. Polo shirts, jeans or khakis, belt. The only exceptions are if you are wearing a company branded item or if you are injured and can’t fit normal work pants over your cast/brace/other equipment. So…go by that.

  54. No Name #1*

    A lot of commenters push back on the idea of morale building activities on zoom but maybe LW1 can just send a survey around to their reports on what they’d find enjoyable. I think the success of these things probably depends a lot on the culture. My parent works at a small law firm that had some traditions that they were able to bring to zoom and it seems like a lot of people enjoyed them but it basically involved adapting things that had been in person in the past to zoom. They also weren’t mandatory but a lot of people participated because the zoom calls were based off of events people looked forward to in the past. My point behind this comment though is that workplace culture differs greatly from place to place so what might be really fun for one team could be a flop for another one but it doesn’t hurt to ask people what they want to do.

  55. Sheldon Cooper*

    LW #1 – I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I do think some return to normalcy is important, especially if the remainder of your organization is back in person. I’m in a state that had some of the strictest stay home orders, and it was mandated that we were home for 15 months. We’re now back in person and the workflow really is better, the majority are happy to see each other, etc.

  56. Dapper Book Jockey*

    Q1 — Have an occasional, short, fun, and informal virtual gathering with your team. Play a few rounds of JackBox, share some mocktail recipes, and hang.

    Q5 — I’m not an expert in corporate settings, but I like to dress nicely for work when I’m working in our central library. (Outreach and outdoor events are a whole ‘nother story.) Depending on your comfort level, you can mix some of your femme clothes with some masc touches. I’m nonbinary and I have a mix of items, partly to save money, partly to play with gender, and partly because all too often, “men’s” clothing comes in white, beige, light blue, a different blue, and a third blue, and that can get boring. See how your old pants look with a button-down. Give Dr. Martens brogues or a leather (or vegan leather) dress sneaker a whirl. Give yourself permission to play and experiment to find a look that feels right for you. <3

  57. Fierce Jindo*

    From Alison’s link: “If you’re in a field like academia or finance, then you’d probably find yourself one step away from wearing a full-blown suit and tie.”

    Different parts of academia are different, but unless you’re in administration or at a HCBU, this is very unlikely to be true! In my department, most of us (of any gender) wear jeans and a casual shirt or sweater most days. The only people who wear suits are those who have (rare) big meetings with fancy outside organizations, donors, etc., or one guy who’s just a fancy guy (he’s European).

  58. Lulu*

    LW3, I work in public relations/publicity/media and I think there are some good suggestions here, but mostly writing to say I feel your pain. Most folks have no idea what makes a good story, how hard it is to place one, or the fact that an editor can reject even a good story sometimes because of time, space or 100 other reasons. Good luck.

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